8 Health Benefits Of Giving Back
At present, unprecedented levels of crisis exist at home and in the world. The coronavirus pandemic has left millions deciding whether to pay for rent or food. Racial and economic disparities have reached a boiling point, and officials can’t always agree on a path forward. There’s an overwhelming need for volunteers and donations, but many people think, “I’m in crisis myself. What can I do to help others, and why should I when I’m already struggling?” The answer? You may improve your health substantially through your acts of service.
1. It Decreases Levels of Stress Hormones
Your nervous and endocrine systems work in tandem to control your body’s stress response. When you perceive a threat, like a disgruntled mama bear, your hypothalamus tells your body to release adrenaline and cortisol. While these hormones propel you to fight-or-flight in the short term, the long-term effects of them flooding your system can damage nearly every organ in your body.
A study performed on volunteers showed an association between decreased cortisol levels and acts of kindness. On the days when they participated in charitable activities, the amount of the hormone in their saliva lowered. The bottom line? If you have a stressful day at the office, do something to benefit another.
2. It Teaches You New Things
How much do you know about global events? If you volunteer with an international charity, you will learn about situations abroad that will make you count your blessings. Plus, you’ll expand your worldly knowledge, making you a more thrilling conversationalist at parties. Keeping your gray matter firing also could reduce your risk of cognitive decline as you age. Research shows that those who volunteer one hour per week decreased their dementia risk by 2.44%.
3. It Lowers Your Blood Pressure
Are you one of the many Americans with hypertension, or high blood pressure? If so, you know that it puts considerable strain on your heart, which leaves you at an increased risk of an attack or stroke. You should cut down on salt, alcohol and foods high in saturated and trans fats — plus, you should do some good. One study on individuals who had normal blood pressure showed that those who volunteer for at least 200 hours per year have a 40% lower risk of hypertension than those who did not. You can’t offset a steady diet of burgers and fries with good deeds, but it could make up for the occasional indulgence health-wise.
4. It Improves Heart Health
Your feelings and heart health are intricately linked — all those depictions of the organ as the center of emotion aren’t far off the mark. Science now supports broken heart syndrome as a real physiological effect of physical and emotional stress. The phenomenon explains why older married people often die within a few days or weeks of each other. It could have to do with hormonal and other physiological changes that occur after a shock.
However, volunteering can have the opposite effect. It bathes your heart in healthy hormones and stabilizes your emotions. The improved cardiovascular environment might reduce your risk of disease.
5. It Helps Cut Substance Abuse Risk
One effective way to break negative habits is to replace them with similar but healthier activities. If you know someone who struggles with substance abuse, volunteering can substitute for hanging out with friends who live to party, aka use. You don’t need to do something like helping others who battle addiction if you don’t want to — you can walk dogs or socialize kitties at a local shelter.
6. It Alleviates Depression
Researchers recently evaluated over 27,000 individuals from 15 countries, and the results confirmed an association between regular volunteering and lower rates of depression. They suspect that the correlations develop due to the higher level of social engagement these individuals enjoy. Depression can make it challenging to get out of bed, and having people who rely on you can help you muster the energy to get going. Another issue people that with depression encounter is feelings of worthlessness. Those who are suicidal may honestly believe that the world would be better off without them in it. Giving back through volunteering proves that you have value and combats the feeling that what you do doesn’t matter.
7. It Keeps You Physically Active
Many people need to get more exercise, and volunteering offers one path to do so. Some activities, like Adopt-a-Highway cleanups and school field trips, entail a significant level of physical activity. Researchers at the University of British Columbia found in a 2013 study that those who volunteer one hour per week show a reduction in body mass index, which correlates to a lower risk of various diseases.
8. It Helps You Sleep Better at Night
Did you ever hear the saying, “How do you sleep at night?” When you perform acts of service, you can rest well, knowing that you made a difference. Your body needs rest to produce immunity-boosting cytokines and keep your mind sharp. Excessive drowsiness can lead to increased accidents, so reduce your risk by doing good.
Give Back to Others and Reap the Health Benefits Yourself
When you give back to others, you get more than you receive. This statement isn’t a platitude, but a science-based explanation — volunteering improves your physical and mental health.
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