Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Health Benefits of Helping Others

As the holidays approach, many of us have a strong desire to reach out and help others.  Often, we are overcome by feelings of gratitude for the good things in our own lives and we want to make life a little easier for others.  However, did you know there are actual health benefits you receive when you help someone else?  It really does appear to be more blessed to give than receive.

Health Benefits You Receive by Helping Others

You May Live Longer - No one is quite sure why this is true, but several studies indicate that helping others increases your longevity.  In one study, reported in the Huffington Post article "19 Healthy Reasons to Help Others," 423 married couples over age 65 in Detroit were asked if they helped anyone other than each other in the previous year with tasks such as transportation, errands, shopping, housework, or childcare. The people who helped others were approximately half as likely to die over the next five years than those who didn't.

Helping Others Reduces Your Stress - When you reach out to help others, your body releases oxytocin, which lowers stress and increases your sense of trust and tranquility.  Oxytocin is also known as the compassion hormone.  It helps in cell repair, in the storage of nutrients, and in growth.  No wonder helping others helps us live longer!

Caring About Others Improves Your Immune Function - In an 1988 experiment, Harvard researchers discovered that immunoglobulin A levels increased when subjects were shown a video about Mother Teresa.  They didn't even have to actually help someone else; they just had to watch someone else helping people.  

You Will Feel Great About What You are Doing - One of the best reasons for helping others is that you simply feel good.  There are chemical reasons why we feel better, including the fact that our body releases dopamine, which soothes us, and sometimes serotonin, which is a brain chemical often used to treat depression.

Volunteering Can Help Ward off Loneliness and Depression - In fact, just helping someone else could be therapeutic for someone with mild to moderate depression.  One group which has seen this first hand is Alcoholics Anonymous.  Members who help others stay sober are less likely to be depressed themselves.  The same principal holds true in other organizations where people who suffer from a medical condition, for example, help others who suffer from the same health problem.

Helping Others Can Improve Your Physical Health -  In an article from Harvard titled "Volunteering may be Good for Body and Mind,"  they discovered that helping others can lower your blood pressure and improve your longevity.

You Can Keep it in the Family -  According to the Huffington Post article, parents who teach their children to be caring and compassionate also receive the health benefits of volunteering.  While I have no research to prove it is also true for grandparents, as well, there have been studies which have shown that grandparents who spend a few hours a week taking care of their grandchildren tend to be happier.  In other words, anytime you reach out to help others, no matter who it is, it benefits you, as well.  There is something else you should feel good about.  If you help your grandchildren be more caring and compassionate, you may be improving their lifelong health, too.

Tips for Getting the Most Benefit from Helping Others

Just a Few Hours of Volunteering is all You Need -  According to the Huffington Post article, it doesn't take a lot of time to reap the health benefits.  Just two hours of volunteering a week is enough to reap the maximum benefit.  Of course, you can do more if you want, but two hours is all you need to benefit.

Find Something You Care About - It will not benefit you if you force yourself to commit to a volunteer opportunity which you do not care about.  In other words, make sure you actually want to help this particular person or group of people and you are not doing it because you think it will improve your health.  Help people who mean something to you, either because they are related to you, they share a common health problem with you, or they are someone whose welfare you truly care about.

Do Not Overdo It - If you put so much effort into volunteering that you burn yourself out, you will lose all the health benefits.  Do what you can, but do not let yourself be talked into doing so much that you hurt yourself financially, emotionally or physically.

Realize You Cannot Solve Someone Else's Problems - Although you may begin to truly care about the people you help, you need to realize that you cannot solve all their problems.  Keep some emotional distance.  You cannot fix everything that is broken.  It is enough that you occasionally make life a litter easier for someone else.  You do not have to try to carry all their burdens.


Sources:

"19 Healthy Reasons to Help Others"

"Volunteering May be Good for Body and Mind"

If you are interested in learning more about taking care of your health as you age, where to retire, financial planning, Medicare, Social Security and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of helpful articles.

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Photo credit:  Photo of volunteers fighting human trafficking taken by author

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