Our Opinion: Another reason to volunteer; it’s healthy

Add volunteerism to diet and exercise as ways to promote good health.

A story in today’s Health section cites a new study that links volunteering with lowering blood pressure.

Research at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh found Americans who perform at least 200 hours of volunteer work annually are 40 percent less likely to develop high blood pressure.

High blood pressure is a major health issue. The National Institutes of Health reports 90 percent of Americans 50 or older are likely to suffer from hypertension at some point during the rest of their lives.

And people who have high blood pressure are four times as likely to die from a stroke and three times as likely to die from heart disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Release of the study coincides with a local Heart Walk, scheduled Saturday at Memorial Park, with registration beginning at 8 a.m.

Sponsored by the American Heart Association, organizers say a number of booths will offer information on heart disease and stroke — respectively, the national No. 1 and No. 4 killers.

The traditional regimen to control blood pressure has included proper medication, diet, exercise and sleep — as well as stress and weight reduction.

If volunteerism also is a contributing factor, the obvious question is why?

Rodlescia S. Sneed, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology at Carnegie Mellon and the study’s lead researcher, attributes the volunteerism among seniors to enhanced social connections.

“There is strong evidence,” she said, “that having good social connections promotes healthy aging and reduces risk for a number of negative health outcomes.”

A widely accepted concept is you cannot be selfless and selfish at the same time. If you’re helping others, you cannot be absorbed in your own problems.

The double reward — mental and emotional — is forgetting your own troubles while enjoying the enhanced self-worth that comes with volunteering.

Add a third reward — a physical benefit — if volunteerism lowers your pressure.

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