MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — With the start of a new year, many of us are vowing to exercise more and eat healthier.

But here’s something else to think about that could improve your health: donating money to charitable causes.

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Researchers in Canada just made a surprising discovery.

An experiment conducted by the University of British Columbia showed that people with high blood pressure who gave away cash over a few weeks saw their blood pressure drop.

Dr. Lisa Ferguson-Stegall, the director of Public Health Sciences at Hamline University in St. Paul, commented on the study.

“It is not only exercise that can help you lower your blood pressure, it’s not only your diet, but it’s the way you perceive your place in the world,” she said. “If you can say, ‘I am making a difference, I am doing something good.’ That’s healthy too.”

The University of British Columbia experiment included 128 adults.

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“In the study, they gave participants $40 a week for three weeks and said, ‘Spend this,'” Stegall said. “They had one part of the group spend it on themselves, and the other half, spend it on others through charitable donations.”

Those who spent the money on themselves saw no change in their blood pressure.

Stegall says this latest experiment supports other studies that have been done on the benefits of volunteer work and gratitude.

“People who practice being grateful for the good things that happen every day actually improve their blood pressure and immune system function as well,” Stegall said. “They feel less depressed and more optimistic.”

Researchers say they monitored blood pressure because they could reliably measure it in the lab.

The study’s participants were between 65 and 85 years old, and that is an age group that tends to feel more isolated and depressed.

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There’s also high interest in finding ways to reduce high blood pressure, because hypertension is dangerous. It’s responsible for 7.5 million premature deaths each year.