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Spending money on others lowers blood pressure: UBC study

A team of UBC researchers have linked spending money on others to lower blood pressure.

A doctor speaks to a patient as a sphygmomanometer, or blood pressure meter, lies on his desk on September 5, 2012 in Berlin, Germany.

Adam Berry/Getty Images

A doctor speaks to a patient as a sphygmomanometer, or blood pressure meter, lies on his desk on September 5, 2012 in Berlin, Germany.

Spending money on others can lower blood pressure, according to new research coming out of UBC.

A team of graduate students have conducted an experiment where 73 older adults diagnosed with high blood pressure – ages 65 to 85 – were given $40 each and were randomly assigned to spend the cash on themselves or on others for a period of three weeks. (The experiment was six weeks in total.)

What the group found was a “significant reduction” in blood pressure, similar to someone starting a new exercise regime or being put on new blood pressure medication.

“These findings provide some of the strongest evidence to date that financial generosity can have significant implications for our physical health,” said lead author Ashley Whillans.

Whillans added the drop in blood pressure was most notable around week four. Similar results were discovered in a correlation study that involved an additional 186 seniors.

The evidence shows that those who spend money on others who they feel closest to had the greatest benefit. The first participant was a war veteran, who donated his payments to a school built in honour of a friend he served with in the Vietnam War.

Another donated her money to a charity that had helped her granddaughter survive anorexia.

The UBC researchers conducted the experiment, Whillans noted, after realizing there was little evidence to suggest donating money has an effect on physical health.

“Of course, there is still a lot to learn about when and for whom the health benefits of financial generosity emerge,” Whillans wrote in a blog post. “We don’t know a lot about how or how much people should spend on others to enjoy long-lasting health benefits.”

But being generous doesn’t always mean good health. Whillans said it’s only beneficial when it’s not done at a personal cost.

“You should probably think twice before donating your entire life savings to charity, because the stress of helping so extensively could undermine any potential benefits.”