Thursday 27 August 2015

Give more. Get healthy!

Had a great lunch yesterday with David Halpern, the CEO of the behavioural insight unit.  Better known as the nudge experts, they have been responsible for some fascinating  innovations in the way our public services work.  David is publishing a book on the theory of nudge next week.  Get it.  I shall. 

They have been responsible for some in depth work on how to nudge people to give.  And today they are publishing some new research on giving and health.  And it shows that spending money on other people is good for your heart!  

Giving generously lowers high blood pressure, an ailment that contributes to the deaths of an estimated 7.5 million people prematurely worldwide each year.

This remarkable effect that being unselfish with money has on health was discovered by a team of psychologists that ran two studies among older adults with high blood pressure.

The first involved 186 people living in the United States who were aged between 55 and 74 and suffered from high blood pressure.  The team analysed how much money they contributed to religious groups, political organisations and causes, friends and family and other organisations.

The researchers found the more money the participants spent on others, the lower their systolic and diastolic blood pressure was two years later.

The second study examined 73 participants with heart complaints aged over 65 from the Vancouver area of Canada.  They were randomly assigned to spend three lots of $40 dollars either on themselves or others for three consecutive weeks during a six-week study period.

When examined afterwards, participants who gave to others showed significant improvements in systolic and diastolic blood pressure compared to participants assigned to spend money on themselves. “Thus, prosocial spending was linked to lower blood pressure,” the team concluded in a paper about the trials.

The researchers believe these results represent the first-ever empirical evidence that engaging in “prosocial spending” can lead to lower blood pressure and healthier hearts.  They speculate that the improvement may take place in part because the generous act activates the release of the stress-reducing neurohomones.

This beneficial impact of generosity on well-being is good news because heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. High blood pressure, which puts people at a higher risk of a heart attack, currently affects 67 million people in the U.S. and, according to the World Health Organization, 1 billion people worldwide.

In their paper the team adds: “Together, these findings suggest that spending money on others shapes cardiovascular health, thereby providing one pathway by which prosocial behaviour improves physical health among older adults.” The team's paper goes on: “Across two studies, we provide the first empirical evidence that prosocial spending may lead to lower blood pressure among older adults.”

I wonder if this will be widely reported?  A good antidote to some of the hostile media publicity on fundraising.  It's great news for charities like the British Heart Foundation and their door to door fundraisers. So supporting them is not just good for the charity that is our leading heart research body but responding to their fundraising will help lower your blood pressure. What could be fairer than that! 

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