Lorne Marr Toonies for Tummies

Giving Can Help You Live Longer

Helping feels good, we all know that. That is to say, anyone who ever donates their time or money to a charity, knows that there are a lot of positive feelings that come along with it. Well, a new name has been given to that feeling and there are also some other positive side effects that go along with it.

The name is “Helpers High” and beyond carrying with that unique “I just did something great” glow, there are some actual positive effects that can be achieved both physically and mentally. Studies, including a five year one done with the support of the US government, have shown some pretty amazing benefits, including: lower blood pressure, increased self-esteem, less depression, lower stress levels, longer life, and greater happiness.

In reference to the 5 year study that looked at almost 900 people, Michael J. Poulin of the University at Buffalo said, “This study offers a significant contribution to our understanding of how giving assistance to others may offer health benefits to the giver by buffering the negative effects of stress.”

Let’s face it, you could have guessed that a helpers high would have included the increase in self esteem and the greater happiness. These accompany giving of any kind and we’ve all felt it. That moment where someone is opening a gift that you’ve given and you know that it’s a home run.

Here’s the thing though, there is a lot of serious medical back up for all of this happiness, as the act of giving activates the parts of the brain that are associated with both pleasure and trust.  These area’s release chemicals that make us feel good. These chemicals include serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin.

In fact, the National Institute of Health decided to study MRI’s of people who gave to charity. During this study, they saw that the act of giving stimulates the mesolimbic pathway that is located in the reward centre of the brain, where endorphins are released. In fact, the area’s that “light up” in the brain are the same as those that light up after making love, eating something delicious or winning a lottery.

One of the other effects is stress relief. This one can’t be over looked. As we have all experienced, stress and stressful situations often leave us feeling depleted and drained. Therefore, any form of stress relief can clearly lead to positive effects on our health.  Poulin points out that the study addressed this aspect of giving – “As the title of our study indicates we tested the hypothesis that providing help to others would predict a reduced association between stress and mortality for the helpers. Specifically, over the five years of the study, we found that when dealing with stressful situations, those who had helped others during the previous year were less likely to die than those who had not helped others.’

On the more surprising side in that list of benefits, The International Journal of Psychophysiology published a study that stated that those who give their time and their the money it support others had lower blood pressure than those who didn’t and even went so far as to find that it was helpful for people recovering from coronary related events.

Pretty unbelievable right? But who are we to argue with the International Journal of Psychophysiology.

That’s not the only intriguing study on the subject either. The fine people at University of California Berkeley found, through a study of their own, that this Helper High can actually make you live longer. Their study, which focused on people 55 years and older, found that those who were volunteering for 2 or more organizations were 44 percent less likely to die over a 5 year period as opposed to those who did no volunteer work whatsoever. UC Berkley made sure that their study even accounted for other major factors such as age, level of activity, overall health and other negative habits like alcohol consumption and smoking.

The University of Michigan conducted its own research which backed up the Berkley study that looked at elderly people who gave to their family friends and neighbors as well as spouses, versus those who didn’t.

So, there you have it. Giving makes you live longer and feel better. But, let’s say you don’t believe me, or the many studies, why not run your own personal study and donate to a great local charity like Toonies for Tummies who provide food to different programs providing nourishment to children.

Even if you did believe the study, make a donation anyways, and enjoy your helper high, be warned, it can be addictive!


Posted by Lorne Marr.
Lorne Marr is a Toronto-based fitness enthusiast and lifelong advocate of healthy living. He is on a journey to discover the best methods of training and nutrition for athletes and weekend warriors over 45. Connect with Lorne on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

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