It Does a Body Good

People have a myriad of reasons for being charitable. Religion, morality, a sense of obligation, and empathy for others all play a role. But here’s one reason you may not have considered: being charitable may actually help you live longer.

A growing body of research has demonstrated the power of giving as it relates to a healthy life. A study at the University of Minnesota found that seniors volunteering 100 hours or more a year were 28% less likely to die from any cause than seniors that did not volunteer that amount. Those over 50 volunteering 200 hours or more a year were 40% less likely to develop high blood pressure than those that didn’t volunteer (Psychology and Aging).

One reason for the charity/body connection is that when you give to charity or help others, your brain rewards you by releasing dopamine, a neurotransmitter that elevates the mood. Many donors have told me they find giving “addictive” once they begin doing so on a regular basis; the feeling of well-being dopamine produces helps to explain this reaction. Interestingly, it is the regular, habitual practice of charity that produces these results rather than the sporadic good deed.

This research falls in line with the overall impact of a positive outlook and feelings of happiness on health. In a famous long-range study of nuns and Alzheimer disease, nuns expressing the most positive emotions in their writing and interviews lived on average 10 years longer than the nuns on the lowest end of the spectrum; the most positive nuns also had had a lower incidence of dementia.

In a culture that churns on negativity and celebrates the self-absorbed, science increasingly tells us that reaching out to others and looking for the positive outcome can literally save our lives. As we enter the holiday season, keep in mind that seeking out opportunities to give and share not only transforms the lives of those you help, such actions can extend your own life and its quality.

Note: Thanks to my eagle-eyed wife for spotting some of the research used in this post.

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