"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

Why helping others improves your health

August 7, 2023 – You know that healthy eating and exercise can enable you live longer, healthier lives. But growing evidence supports one other, lesser-known and powerful strategy: helping others.

Take part in a current study, Annals of Behavioral Medicine The study showed that support from family and friends in addition to formal volunteer work are related to lower levels of i.Interleukin-6, an inflammatory marker.

And that's not all. Several studies suggest that acts of kindness can reduce chronic inflammation and potentially prevent serious disease.

“Inflammation is the really important pathway that connects most social experiences to disease,” said Tristen Inagaki, PhD, a Social psychologist at San Diego State University.

Unlike acute inflammation – akin to the healing of a cut finger or a scraped knee, which is usually characterised by redness, swelling and heat – chronic inflammation lasts for months or years and could cause serious damage.

As many as half of all deaths worldwide may be related to diseases attributable to chronic inflammation, including stroke, Heart disease, diabetesand a few kinds of Cancer.

“It is a predictor of many chronic diseases in later life,” says Dr. Tao Jiang, social psychologist on the Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

Obesity might be certainly one of the foremost causes of chronic inflammation because 30% from Interleukin-6 may be produced by fat tissueChronic inflammation can be related to poor diet, pollution, stressAnd Smoke.

To reduce chronic inflammation, you may try maintaining a healthy weight, improving gut health, eating loads of fruit and veggies, and exercising. commonly.

Or get entangled as a volunteer. Help others and help your health.

Measuring quality

For the study in Annals of Behavioral Medicine, The researchers examined data from greater than 1,000 middle-aged adults from two groups.

The first group filled out questionnaires about how much they volunteer in the neighborhood and the way much they assist their family and shut friends – for instance, by listening to problems or helping out with home tasks.

The second group answered a more formal survey that measured altruism. It included questions akin to “I donated goods or clothing to a charity” or “I helped carry a stranger's belongings.

In each cases, greater willingness to assist was related to a lower level of Interleukin-6whatever the person's weight, age or gender. Helping others predicted chronic inflammation “to a similar extent” as body mass index (BMI), said Inagaki, certainly one of the study's authors.

This was not surprising. Several studies have linked “social integration — the extent to which an individual participates of their community — with the body’s immune response. For example, individuals who have many close members of the family and friends are less prone to Cold viruses succumb and are likely to produce more antibodies in response to vaccination. Those who spend more time with their romantic partners have lower levels of C-reactive protein (one other cytokine that promotes inflammation).

But there may be a caveat. How generous we’re in our relationships can reduce the helpful effects of a powerful social life, in response to one Study 2022 by researchers at Ohio State University. People who don’t offer much support to their family members are likely to have higher Interleukin-6 levels – even when surrounded by family and friends.

In other words, those that profit most from social integration usually are not only takers but additionally givers.

“This is more than just being integrated,” Inagaki said.

This style of research suggests a link between kindness and chronic inflammation. For clearer evidence, researchers turn to other studies.

For a study For a study published in 2020, scientists on the University of California, Los Angeles, divided dozens of older women into two groups: Some were asked to maintain a diary about “neutral” topics – for instance, what they ate for lunch – while the second group had to jot down down life advice for younger generations. After 6 weeks, the advantages for the recommendation givers were visible right all the way down to the ladies's blood cells: The expression of pro-inflammatory genes was reduced of their leukocytes. No similar advantages were observed in the ladies who wrote about their lunch.

Such interventions also appear to work in younger people. public secondary school In Western Canada, students were divided into two groups. The first group volunteered to assist elementary school children in after-school programs. The second group was placed on a waiting list. When blood samples from all the teenagers were compared, it was found that the volunteers had significantly lower levels of interleukin-6.

Give your life meaning

Together wisdom suggests that we should always practice self-care to enhance our well-being. But a Study 2022 has shown that it could be higher for us to pamper others as a substitute.

In this study, 63 people were instructed to perform random acts of kindness for 4 weeks, akin to holding the door for others or carrying grocery bags for a neighbor. Another group was instructed to treat themselves, akin to going to a spa, eating something special, or taking a nap. A control group was simply instructed to log their day by day activities.

Guess who the perfect inflammation fighters were? You got it: Once again, helping others led to more favorable gene expression related to chronic inflammation. Kindness, it seems, gives people more purpose.

“It's about more than just feeling good in the moment,” says study creator Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, a psychologist on the University of California, Riverside. “You actually feel like what you're doing matters.”

Other research confirms that individuals who find their lives meaningful have lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, and higher expression of inflammatory genes.

Stress reduction could also be key to the connection between kindness and health.

“Stress is a key indicator of chronic inflammation,” Jiang said. To effectively look after their offspring, mammals have evolved a “care system”: ways to scale back stress, which in turn allows the animals to satisfy the challenges of raising their young.

On a biological level, which means that once we look after others, activity within the septal area of ​​the brain, which plays a job in reward and reinforcement, increases, while activity within the amygdala (the fear center) decreases.

“Some of these regions have anatomical connections to the peripheral inflammatory response,” Inagaki said.

In a Study 2015Inagaki and her colleagues measured salivary levels of alpha-amylase, a biomarker for the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, which controls our “fight or flight” response. People who were stressed after helping others had lower levels than individuals who weren’t kind before the stressful event. The sympathetic nervous system regulates many involuntary body functions akin to heart rate, blood pressure and digestion. In addition, reduced activity of the sympathetic nervous system connected to scale back inflammation.

However, it’s a balancing act. Lyubomirsky warns against overdoing it with self-sacrifice.

“If you give too much to others and neglect yourself, it can actually affect your well-being,” she said.

As a matter of fact, a classic study found that caregivers who were overwhelmed with their duties had a 63 percent higher risk of death over the four-year commentary period than those that didn’t should look after a disabled spouse.

“There is clearly a Goldilocks-like optimal dosage of kindness,” Lyubomirsky said.

But so long as you don't sacrifice yourself, volunteering and helping others can reduce chronic inflammation and possibly prevent disease. That's why Inagaki advises her stressed-out students to focus more on other people.

“We are a social species,” she said. “We evolved to care for others.”