For a lot of folks the start of a new year brings resolve to live a healthier, fitter lifestyle. So, you might be interested knowing that in addition to other reasons to donate and volunteer, it’s also actually good for your health.
Scientists have long known about something called a “helpers high:” a chemical surge that makes people feel better when working as a volunteer or donating to a cause. It’s a mixture of serotonin, dopamine and other substances that give the rush.
Researchers from a variety of disciplines have looked at “helper’s high” and its effects on the body. Whether acts of heroism or volunteerism, altruism benefits health and longevity. When people act on behalf of others, research shows they feel great comfort and less stress.
According to Case Western Reserve University researcher and professor Stephen G. Post, It’s no surprise that those on the receiving end of kindness reap a benefit. “There are ample studies showing that when people receive generosity and compassion, there is a positive effect on their health and well-being, Post says.” But, now there is evidence that giving kindness and compassion also has a positive effect.
The professor’s research described how altruism can be an antidote for stress. The connection was actually discovered by accident in 1957, when it was found that women with large families – who, giving as they do, should be under greater stress and die earlier than women with few children – actually were healthier. Two other large studies found that older adults who volunteered and donated reaped benefits in their health and well being. Those who donate and volunteer live longer than those who don’t.
Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Texas at Austin also found those who volunteer live longer than those who don’t. Another study found those who volunteered at least 100 hours or more a year had lower levels of depression and mortality than those who didn’t sign up. The only other activity more strongly correlated with lower mortality than donating and volunteering, during the Texas study, was smoking cessation. Researchers have found a 44% reduction in early death among those who volunteered a lot – a greater effect than exercising four times a week!
Don’t give up healthy eating or your gym membership. But, you might want to go on a diet of good deeds, and a regular regimen of donating and volunteering in the coming year. Apparently it’s good for the head, good for the heart, and just about everywhere else!