We’ve all heard the expression, "It is better to give than to receive.” Who doesn’t appreciate that warm fuzzy feeling when we give to those in need, be it our time, energy, or money? Generosity provides the giver a sense of purpose and increases one’s self-esteem. It improves relationships and promotes social connections. The act of giving not only helps others, but is in your best interest physically, as well! Recent studies show that generosity is good for our bodies as well as our minds. Here’s a rundown of the physical health benefits of generosity.
Decreases stress – Studies show that generosity can decrease cortisol, a hormone that increases stress levels. Conversely, being stingy increases cortisol and thus stress levels.
Decreases blood pressure -- A 2006 study in theInternational Journal of Psychophysiologyfound that participants who gave social support to people within their network hadlower overall blood pressureand arterial pressure than those who didn't. A 2013studyfound older adults who volunteered at least four hours per week in the 12 months prior to the baseline blood pressure measurement were less likely to develop high blood pressure for four years.
Wards off depression – Generosity and volunteerism boost self-esteem and protect people from social isolation, decreasing risk of depression.
Improves sleep -- An online national survey of 4,500 American adults (the 2010 United Healthcare/Volunteer Match Do Good Live Well Study) found that people who volunteer have less trouble sleeping, less anxiety, less helplessness and hopelessness, better friendships and social networks, and a sense of control over chronic conditions.
Manages chronic pain -- For persons who suffer from chronic pain and depression, volunteering (however you chose to do it) can be an important part of recovery. According to astudy published in 2002 inPain Management Nursing,nurses suffering fromchronic painexperienced declines in their pain intensity and decreased levels of disability anddepressionwhen they served as peer volunteers for others also suffering from chronic pain.
Maintains physical fitness -- One study followed 128 people, age 60–86, who regularly volunteer their time. At 4-8 months of follow-up, physical activity, strength, and cognitive activity increased significantly, and walking speed decreased significantly less in participants compared to controls.
Decreases risk of dementia – A recent review of studies published in the November 2014 Psychological Bulletin found that, among seniors, volunteering is likely to reduce the risk of dementia. If generosity fosters social interaction, lowers blood pressure, and helps maintain physical fitness, it will naturally decrease the risk of dementia.
May increase life span – One study followed 423 elderly couples over five years and found that individuals who reported providing tangible forms of help to friends, relatives, and neighbors reduced their risk of dying by about one half, compared with individuals who reported providing no help to others.
While the majority of studies focus on generosity and the elderly, the benefits of giving are observed in younger people, too. A study of 10th-graders at a Vancouver high school found that students who spent an hour a week helping children in after-school programs over 10 weeks had lower levels of inflammation and cholesterol, plus a lower body-mass index.
Does generosity actually cause better health? Most research studying the health benefits of helping has been correlational. These studies cannot determine whether helping others actuallycausesimprovements in physical health or just happens to be related to it.