Recently, researchers have been measuring the benefits of giving, and their findings reveal that giving and volunteering help reduce stress and depression. They also promote healthy social connections and a sense of purpose among other health benefits. Some scientists suggest that giving is just as important to maintaining health as exercise and a healthy diet. Here are five health benefits of gift giving.
- Reduced 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.
- Lower Blood Pressure – 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, and sometimes by someone else.
- Increased 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.
- Improved 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.
- Increased 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.