Giving is good for your health

Why volunteering and giving is good for your health

Philanthropy has health benefits. Hence, volunteering and giving is not only good for others, but it is good for you too. When people donate money or time, their health improves. This can include humanitarian and environmental donations, medical donations including being a blood donor or organ donor, community volunteering, involvement in children’s organisations, caring for animals, or involvement in sporting associations including volunteering time at the tuckshop.

MRI brain scans have verified the “helper’s high” of volunteering and giving. The sense of satisfaction and wellbeing is a physical sensation. Brain tests on people that have given financial donations showed that the part of the brain associated with euphoria is stimulated – it is the reward centre of the brain.

Psychologists have also shown that focusing on other people or humanitarian campaigns can shift inward thoughts to outward thoughts. When this happens the feelings of selfishness are reduced. People active in volunteering and giving have also reported fewer headaches, less depression, less anxiety, more energy, more strength, and increased self-worth.

Brain tests on people that have given financial donations showed that the part of the brain associated with euphoria is stimulated – it is the reward centre of the brain.

It is estimated that for people over 55 years of age the likelihood of dying by heart disease decreases by 44% due to volunteering time (even taking into account factors such as smoking, gender, health, and exercise). Regular acts of kindness are said to stimulate the vagus nerve that controls the heart rate, therefore reducing blood pressure and inflammation. Health benefits of philanthropy and volunteering time or services, includes: (1) alleviating depression in both the short and longer terms, including lowering the level of depression; (2) being more satisfied with life, with a stronger will to live; (3) alleviating anxiety with fewer psychological symptoms caused by psychological conditions; (4) extending the longevity of a person’s life; (5) stimulating the hormone oxytocin which protects hardening of the arteries, dilates blood vessels, reduces blood pressure, and helps the heart to regenerate after damage; and (6) general overall happiness.

The health benefits of volunteering and giving are not just for people over 55.  Teenagers who helped others through volunteering time or giving money or toys or other items (even through sharing their toys and games) were, in one psychological study, three times happier than those that lacked the motivation for volunteering. They were more active, excited, and engaged with their peers. They were less depressed and anxious. Psychologists also found that adolescents interested in volunteering and giving were less likely to fail school tests, or experiment in risky behaviour and substance abuse. They also tended to be more social with a higher self-esteem that teenagers who were not as generous.

Volunteering and giving really does improve your Health, happiness, and wellbeing – and you live longer too!

Martina Nicolls

Martina Nicolls

Martina Nicolls specialises in human rights, peace and reconciliation, disaster relief, and aid development, primarily in developing countries, states in transition, and conflict zones. She is the author of four books: The Sudan Curse, Kashmir on a Knife-Edge, Bardot’s Comet and Liberia’s Deadest Ends.

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