Giving to others and the association between stress and mortality

Am J Public Health. 2013 Sep;103(9):1649-55. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2012.300876. Epub 2013 Jan 17.


Objectives: We sought to test the hypothesis that providing help to others predicts a reduced association between stress and mortality.

Methods: We examined data from participants (n = 846) in a study in the Detroit, Michigan, area. Participants completed baseline interviews that assessed past-year stressful events and whether the participant had provided tangible assistance to friends or family members. Participant mortality and time to death was monitored for 5 years by way of newspaper obituaries and monthly state death-record tapes.

Results: When we adjusted for age, baseline health and functioning, and key psychosocial variables, Cox proportional hazard models for mortality revealed a significant interaction between helping behavior and stressful events (hazard ratio [HR] = 0.58; P < .05; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.35, 0.98). Specifically, stress did not predict mortality risk among individuals who provided help to others in the past year (HR = 0.96; 95% CI = 0.79, 1.18), but stress did predict mortality among those who did not provide help to others (HR = 1.30; P < .05; 95% CI = 1.05, 1.62).

Conclusions: Helping others predicted reduced mortality specifically by buffering the association between stress and mortality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Helping Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Male
  • Michigan / epidemiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Mortality*
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychology
  • Risk Factors