The act of giving through volunteering can do more than simply warm your heart; it can actually contribute to the prevention of heart disease! Some precipitating factors of cardiovascular disease include depression, loneliness, stress, and high blood pressure. Altruism can counteract all those risk factors, prevent cardiovascular events and ultimately increase longevity.
Research (and clinical experience) shows that feeling disconnected, lonely, and depressed yield a greater tendency toward poor dietary habits, smoking, and decreased physical activity, which in turn increases the risk of developing and dying from heart disease. Giving through volunteerism increases our feeling of social connectedness and a sense of belonging. Feeling united with others wards off feelings of loneliness and depression, allowing for our mental and emotional strength to make sound dietary and lifestyle choices.
In addition to improved psychological health, a 2013 study in Psychology and Aging concluded that volunteering is associated with lower prevalence of high blood pressure. Empathizing with and caring for others can put our own personal problems into perspective, which decreases stress. High stress levels can cause our blood pressure to spike due to increased production of stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, which cause our bodies to switch from our “rest and digest” mode (parasympathetic nervous system) to our “fight or flight” mode (sympathetic nervous system). Sympathetic overdrive increases the heart rate and narrows blood vessels, which increases blood pressure. Frequent blood pressure spikes and sustained high blood pressure strains the heart and raises the risk of cardiovascular disease. Giving is a wonderful coping mechanism for stress and an easy way to lower blood pressure. So go find your giving place!
- Volunteer. Volunteer or do something for others at least once a month. This may be working in a soup kitchen, mentoring a child, or helping out in a hospital. Whatever you choose, volunteering can nourish your soul and your body.
- Pass it on. A good life requires a balance of give and take. If someone does something kind for you, pay it forward or return the favor when they least expect it.
- Random acts of kindness. Give to others for no reason at all. Hold a door open, care for an elderly family member or neighbor, pay for someone else’s coffee. Whatever the act of kindness, it will not only improve the other person’s day, it will boost your happiness and benefit your health.