Health Benefits Associated With Three Helping Behaviors: Evidence for Incident Cardiovascular Disease

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Caregiving, Heart disease, Instrumental support, Mortality, Stroke, Volunteering

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Objective: The purpose of this study was to investigate the association between three helping behaviors and incident cardiovascular disease (CVD; heart attack, stroke; fatal and nonfatal), with an exploration of gender differences. The study is framed within the caregiving system model. Helping others is argued to be an evolved characteristic of humans that yields beneficial health effects.

Methods: Data were taken from the 2004–2014 waves of the Health and Retirement Study. The three forms of helping others considered were formal volunteering, informal helping, and caregiving for a parent or spouse. Cox proportional hazards models were estimated for gender-stratified samples.

Results: Women who volunteered showed a lower risk of incident CVD compared to women who did not volunteer. Men who informally helped others in the community exhibited a lower risk of incident CVD compared to men who did not provide this form of help. Caregiving status was generally not associated with incident CVD for women or men.

Discussion: The results demonstrated that specific types of prosocial behavior may be beneficial for women and men. However, tests for effect differences showed that gender did not moderate the relationships between these helping behaviors and CVD risk.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, v. 73, issue 3, p. 492-500