Do Good, Live Long, and Prosper. It turns out that helping out and being kind to others is not only good for your health; science suggests it can even help you live longer.
That Warm, Fuzzy Feeling
Have you experienced good feelings after helping someone, in even a small way? Whether it’s assisting someone in crossing the street safely or donating money to charity, studies demonstrate that lending a helping hand can actually boost your physical and mental health.
With mental health garnering the spotlight recently, doing good deeds might present a simple and effective way to be part of a solution to improve mental health in ourselves and those around us.
Additional research found that people who regularly help others through volunteering in their community considered themselves to have generally better health than those who did not. One study also suggested that seniors who do volunteer work may live longer.
So, what is really happening to us when we help or give to others? Neurological research reveals that charitable acts activate the mesolimbic pathway, which is the “reward” center of the brain. This reward center releases brain chemicals called endorphins that produce a feel-good sensation.
These feel-good endorphins include serotonin (a chemical that regulates mood), oxytocin (a chemical associated with empathy), and dopamine (the “happy” chemical). Do you feel a kind of excitement when you give someone a gift? It’s because the act of giving causes the brain to release these endorphins.
The endorphins produced by doing charitable work may also play a role in pain reduction. For example, pain occurring while “giving for a cause,” such as blood donation, is perceived as less painful by some donors than getting a blood test done.
From a health care standpoint, studies also indicate that patients who engage in volunteer work have lower blood sugar levels. When hospitalized, they are less prone to inflammation and spend less time in recovery than patients who avoided volunteering.
This is good news for a strained health care system where hospital beds are in high demand. Other research also revealed a 24% reduction in the risk of early death for older adults who volunteered regularly.
What You Can Do
There’s a common saying that “the tiniest acts of kindness still have the potential to make a positive change for others.” By incorporating these small gestures into daily living, we can not only “pay it forward” but give our own physical and mental health a booster shot. Here are some you can try right away:
- Be grateful. Say thank you more often. You may be surprised what a difference it makes, and there is no shortage of opportunities to say it in a day. Say thank you at the end of a phone call or an email. Thank your restaurant server, your children’s teachers, and your neighbors when they shovel your walk along with their own. It’s painless and free!
- Compliment people. A sincere “you look good today” can mean the world to someone not quite feeling up to par that day.
- Help out. Open a door for someone if their hands are full, or offer directions to someone who looks confused or lost. Pick up a dropped item and return it to its owner. Opportunities to help are everywhere if you just look.
- Be a good citizen. Keep your little corner of the universe tidy and maybe part of someone else’s too. Collect loose litter blown against a fence or tree and dispose of it. Practice the three R’s – reduce, reuse, and recycle.
- Reach out online. Post a helpful response in an online forum or social media thread. Donate to a fund-me page for a person or event you’d like to support. Email someone just to stay in touch, or offer encouragement if they’re going through a rough patch.
- Be kind to strangers. Offer someone your seat on public transit, or your place in line at the supermarket checkout. The easiest kindness of all? A smile.