Let’s face it—we live in some pretty turbulent times. The world is going through some serious cultural, economic, and political upheavals, not to mention a pandemic (that we’re constantly reminded about) that has introduced requirements for freedoms we once took for granted.
Understandably, people can feel a little overwhelmed, but there’s something we can all do that’s good for both our mental and physical well-being—be of service to others.
Whether those selfless actions entail helping a neighbor, donating some clothing, or giving your time to a worthy cause or charity, there can be many health benefits for those who choose to invest themselves in altruistic objectives. Some of these benefits include:
- Experiencing less depression
- Having lower levels of stress
- Living longer
- Having increased confidence and self-esteem
- Having an increased sense of purpose and meaning
- Experiencing more overall happiness and well-being
Sounds like a pretty good trade-off, doesn’t it? As American religious leader and author, Gordon B. Hinckley (from his book “Standing for Something: 10 Neglected Virtues That Will Heal Our Hearts and Homes”), stated: “The best antidote I know for worry is work. The best cure for weariness is the challenge of helping someone who is even more tired. One of the great ironies of life is this: He or she who serves almost always benefits more than he or she who is served.”
U.S. Army veteran and author John Holmes had a more succinct, but no less insightful, thing to say about helping others: “There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.”
But as wise as these words are, and as much as some of us already know them to be true, it will help some readers to hear some science to back them up.
Giving Can Be Healthy for Your Heart
Hypertension (high blood pressure) is a widespread health problem that, according to the World Health Organization, affects 1.28 billion adults between 30 and 79 years of age globally. It’s a serious condition and, if it isn’t remedied, it can lead to a plethora of health problems—including brain, heart, and kidney disease—and a shorter life.
This insidious condition is widely regarded by the medical community as the “silent killer” because most people who have it aren’t aware that they do. Symptoms of hypertension include frequent nosebleeds, headaches (especially in the morning), buzzing in the ears, and heartbeat fibrillations/spasms. Individuals who think they might have hypertension should seek professional medical assistance and have their blood pressure checked.
But there’s also something you can do to prevent hypertension from becoming an issue in the first place (or lower it if already afflicted) and that’s to provide social support for others.
In a study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University (first published in the American Psychological Association journal Psychology and Aging), being of service to others was associated with a longer lifespan, as well as a decrease in blood pressure levels.
Research has shown that volunteering and being of assistance to others actually helps those who invest their time to feel more socially connected, and therefore less susceptible to depression and loneliness—factors that especially impact the older folks of our societies.
As psychologist and author Seth J. Gillihan points out in Psychology Today, purposeful activities such as helping others can improve a person’s mood, overall outlook, and self-esteem, which are all invaluable intangibles that are crucial to mental health.
The benefits of such activities are particularly important for elderly people, who may be facing physical and mental decline. Activities such as volunteering keep them both mentally and physically busy. As a John Hopkins study indicates, elderly folks who volunteer benefit from moving and thinking simultaneously, which is great for their overall health.