By Dr. Mercola
Volunteering is a simple way to help others, but it's also a powerful way to help yourself.
Beyond the good feelings you'll get from donating your time, and the potential to develop new, meaningful relationships with people in your community, volunteering has a significant impact on your physical health, including a boost to your heart health.
Volunteering Cuts Your Risk of High Blood Pressure by 40 Percent
New research from Carnegie Mellon University, scheduled to be published in the journal Psychology and Aging, followed more than 1,000 adults between the ages of 51 and 91.
Those who volunteered for at least 200 hours a year were 40 percent less likely to develop high blood pressure than those who did not. The type of volunteer work appeared to be irrelevant. Rather, it was the amount of time spent doing it that mattered.
"As people get older, social transitions like retirement, bereavement and the departure of children from the home often leave older adults with fewer natural opportunities for social interaction," lead author Rodlescia Sneed, Ph.D said.
"Participating in volunteer activities may provide older adults with social connections that they might not have otherwise. There is strong evidence that having good social connections promotes healthy aging and reduces risk for a number of negative health outcomes."1
Indeed, social interaction, and the stress relief it can provide, is likely one major reason why volunteering has a beneficial effect on blood pressure, as it's a well-known fact that stress elevates blood pressure.
What Makes Volunteering so Good for Your Health?
Blood pressure aside, volunteering is not only a boon for your heart health. Research shows volunteering can cut your overall mortality risk by 47 percent,2 may lower your risk of depression and anxiety,3 and even boost your psychological well-being.4
The benefits are particularly pronounced among older adults, a population that tends to slow down once retirement hits. It's likely that one reason volunteering is so beneficial is simply because it keeps you active and on your feet. Instead of resigning yourself to your couch, choosing to volunteer adds many hours of non-exercise activity to your life – a key to optimal health.
Sitting for extended periods of time is an independent risk factor for poor health and premature death. Volunteering is a simple way to interrupt the sitting and add unlimited amounts of movement to your days, which some experts, such as former NASA director Dr. Joan Vernikos, believe is even more important than regular exercise.
As mentioned, there's a definite social aspect as well, as if you're socially isolated, you may experience poorer health and a shorter lifespan. Volunteering also gives you a sense of purpose and can even lead to a so-called "helper's high," which may occur because doing good releases feel-good hormones like oxytocin in your body while lowering levels of stress hormones like cortisol.
The latter may also explain why volunteering is so good for your heart health (separate research has even shown that states with a high volunteer rate have lower rates of mortality and incidences of heart disease).5 Researchers noted:6
"[Studies] consistently demonstrate that there is a significant relationship between volunteering and good health; when individuals volunteer, they not only help their community but also experience better health in later years, whether in terms of greater longevity, higher functional ability, or lower rates of depression."
Worried About High Blood Pressure? Here's What Can Help
For the good of your community, and the good of your physical and emotional health, volunteering is an activity that we should all strive to do. But it obviously shouldn't be your only strategy to keep your blood pressure in check.
Hypertension is best addressed by using a natural approach, as opposed to a cocktail of typical expensive and dangerous prescription drugs that may actually backfire on you. Lifestyle changes, with particular emphasis on normalizing your insulin levels, will put you on the safest and most reliable path toward optimal health and blood pressure levels. This includes:
- Replace most of your carbs, including sugar and fructose, with non-starchy vegetables and replace the lost calories with healthy fats like:
Olives and olive oil (for cold dishes) Coconuts and coconut oil (for all types of cooking and baking) Butter made from raw grass-fed organic milk Raw nuts, such as macadamia nuts Organic pastured egg yolks Avocados Pasture-finished meats Palm oil (make sure it's the eco-friendly variety) Unheated organic nut oils
- Normalize your omega-6:3 ratio. Both omega-3 and omega-6 fats are essential for your health. Most Americans, however, are getting too much omega-6 and far too little omega-3 in their diets. Consuming omega-3 fats is one of the best ways to re-sensitize your insulin receptors if you suffer from insulin resistance. Omega-3 fats are also important for strong cell membranes and good arterial elasticity. The best sources of omega-3 fats are fish and animal products. Unfortunately, most fresh fish today contains dangerously high levels of mercury. Your best bet is to find a safe source of fish, or if this proves too difficult, supplement with a high-quality krill oil.
- Eliminate caffeine. The connection between caffeine consumption and high blood pressure is not well understood, but there is ample evidence to indicate that if you have hypertension, coffee and other caffeinated drinks and foods can exacerbate your condition.
- Consume fermented foods. Disturbances in gut flora appear to be a significant factor in the development of heart disease, as well as in many other chronic health problems. The best way to optimize your gut flora is by including some naturally fermented foods in your diet, such as sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables, yogurt, kefir, cheese and natto. Fermented foods (especially gouda and edam cheeses) are an important source of vitamin K2, which plays a crucial role in protecting your heart and brain.
- Optimize your vitamin D level. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to metabolic syndrome, as well as to high blood pressure. Vitamin D is a negative inhibitor of your body's renin-angiotensin system (RAS), which regulates blood pressure. If you're vitamin-D deficient, it can cause inappropriate activation of your RAS, which may lead to hypertension. Ideally, you'll want to get your vitamin D by safely exposing your skin to the sun, or using a safe tanning bed. If those are not possible, then consider taking a vitamin D3 supplement.
- Make exercise a priority. A comprehensive exercise regimen such as my Peak Fitness program is very important in maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system. Your routine should incorporate high-intensity interval training and weight training one to three times a week, as these have been shown to be even more effective than aerobic exercises at reducing your risk of dying from a heart attack.
- Get Grounded. Lack of grounding, due to widespread use of rubber or plastic-soled shoes, is likely contributing to chronic inflammation today. When you walk on the Earth barefoot, there is a massive transfer of beneficial electrons rom the Earth into your body. Walking barefoot outside improves blood viscosity and blood flow, which help regulate blood pressure. So, do yourself a favor and put your bare feet upon the sand or dewy grass to harness the healing power of the Earth.
- Manage your stress. Controlling stress is an essential element of good heart health. My preferred stress-busting tool is the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), which is easy to learn and easy to use. However, you might find other methods like yoga, meditation, or prayer, equally effective.