The inspirational words of John Rohn, “Only by giving are you able to receive more than you already have,” is a wisdom that includes healthy truth for our own well-being.
Giving, generosity, and kindness not only allow us to contribute to the lives of others and find meaning in our own lives, but science shows that these characteristics enhance our physical and mental health. It can even add years to our lives.
During the holiday season, the generosity of Americans—gift-giving, volunteering at food pantries, donating clothing—is at an all time high. And too, approximately 34 percent of all charitable giving is done in the last three months of the year.
As millions gear up to celebrate the holidays, let’s take a look at how giving adds richness to our lives, not just in the last week of 2015, but for years to come.
Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know: About The Health Benefits of Giving, Generosity, and Kindness
Heart and cardiovascular system
There is abundant evidence to show that when people perform charitable acts, they tend to have lower blood pressure. In one study, researchers measured people’s blood pressure before and after performing an act of kindness then before and after spending money on themselves. Findings showed that those who performed a good deed had lower blood pressure after; whereas, the group that spent money on themselves, did not show a reduction in blood pressure.
In another study, adults over the age of 50 years who reported volunteering at roughly four hours per week were 40 percent less likely than non-volunteers to have developed hypertension four years later. While the reasons are not entirely clear, it is believed that altruistic acts decrease stress; increase levels of the hormone oxytocin (drops blood pressure); and in some instances is a catalyst for physical activity (fundraising walks, runs).
Immune System and Inflammation
Kind deeds decrease stress and promote a feeling of wellbeing, both of which boost our immune system. Specifically, scientists have found that the levels of T cells—a special immune system cell—increase in our body. What this boils down to is a better defense against germs and, even, cancer because our immune system fights cancerous growth.
Additionally, altruistic acts have been shown to decrease inflammation, which is the underlying cause of a number of chronic illnesses and can actually provoke cancerous growths.
Acts of kindness can help to suppress physical pain by releasing endorphins—our body’s natural pain reliever. In one study, when chronic-pain sufferers volunteered to lead discussion groups for pain sufferers or make weekly calls to check in on patients, their own pain levels decreased. “When you release endorphins, you just feel good”—Jesse Metcalfe.
Generosity fosters “positive attitudes about aging and life, feeling connected, improvement in feelings of control and life satisfaction.” These are all associated with increases in “feel good” hormones, in particular serotonin. In fact, today, the most widely prescribed anti-depressants are those that elevate serotonin levels!
By giving to others, we can live longer. In one review article, researchers gathered information from 40 different studies and found that volunteering could decrease the risk of premature death by 22 percent! This has led some experts to state that, when it comes to increasing our lifespan, giving is as beneficial as quitting smoking and more beneficial than exercising four times a week, going to church, or taking an aspirin to protect against heart disease.
What are some tips to incorporating giving, kindness, and generosity into our lives?
- Challenge ourselves to perform random acts of kindness on a daily basis: hold the door open for someone; send thank you cards to those in uniforms who risk their lives for us; buy a member of The Armed Forces a cup of coffee; or recognize a co-worker by sending them an email, writing a card, or telling their boss….the list goes on.
- Identify our goals: Determine if we want to make it better within our community, meet people who are different than us, try something new, see a new place, or experience a type of work we may want to do as a full-time job.
- Identify our needs: Determine if we prefer to work with adults, children, or animals, work independently or with others, or be behind the scenes. Additionally figure out how much time we are willing to commit.
- Identify our skills: Consider incorporating a hobby into our generosity. For example, knitters can make and donate scarves, hats, or other items; gardeners can help a neighbor or school plant flowers or vegetables; animal lovers can help walk an elderly or sick neighbor’s dog or volunteer at an animal hospital or shelter; and those who love children can give their time at a local school or mentoring or after-school program.
- Make it a group activity: Spending time together as a family or with friends or loved ones, with the added benefit of giving, is a win-win situation.
- Start young: Studies have shown that when children volunteer, they are less likely to experience depression, commit suicide, get pregnant or abuse alcohol or drugs. Additionally, they become more socially competent and have higher self-esteem.
As we look through our holiday lists, let’s make sure that the spirit of “giving, generosity, and kindness” are the fruit of our efforts. And we know it starts at home and with the people we love and work with as well with those in our communities.
Generosity and kindness helps us connect with others, improves our mental and physical health, and becomes contagious. These characteristics are at the heart of our purpose. And, too, as we look to creating New Year’s Resolutions, let’s resolve to continue on all year long.
Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures.
She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist and a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists where she serves on committees for Young Physicians and Communications. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.