Heart Health: Gift Giving Is Actually Good For You

shutterstock_125876288The holiday season is in full swing.  If you’re scurrying around doing last minute shopping and feeling slightly stressed, there’s good news.  It truly is better to give than to receive.  Recent research suggests several ways in which giving (of both time and gifts) benefits our hearts, minds and bodies.  So spread the joy and love – it’s good for you!

Hypertension

In a study of more than 1100 adults, those who volunteered for at least 200 hours per year had a 40% lower risk of hypertension (high blood pressure).  The type of activity wasn’t a factor – just the time spent volunteering and its social bent.  When you give to others, your generosity is likely to be rewarded by others down the line—sometimes by the person you gave to, sometimes by someone else.

Happiness

If you’ve experienced the joy of watching someone open a gift they absolutely love, you know this phenomenon.  In a recent study, the brain’s pleasure centers lit up when people made check marks next to a list of organizations to which they wanted to donate.  Giving activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure and social connection, and altruism releases endorphins in the brain, producing an overall feeling of well being, and making you more likely to give again.

Immunity

Simply contemplating generosity boosts your immunity. When Harvard students watched a film about Mother Teresa tending to orphans, the number of protective antibodies in their saliva surged; when the students were asked to focus on times when they’d been loved by or loving to others, their antibody levels stayed elevated for an hour.

Longevity

A study from the University of California, Berkeley, found that elderly people who volunteered for two or more organizations were 44 percent less likely to die over a five-year period than were non-volunteers, even after controlling for their age, exercise habits, general health, and negative health habits like smoking.  Another study found that those individuals who provided practical help to friends, relatives, or neighbors, or gave emotional support to their spouses, had a lower risk of dying over a five-year period than those who didn’t.

Stress

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University suggest that one reason giving may improve physical health and longevity is that it helps decrease stress, which is associated with a variety of health problems.  In their study, people who provided social support to others had lower blood pressure than participants who didn’t, suggesting a direct physiological benefit to those who give of themselves.