When someone holds the door for you or gives you a compliment, how does that make you feel? The answer is probably something similar to feeling valued, supported, or loved. But did you know if you make acts of kindness a regular habit, it can actually benefit your own health? The health benefits of kindness have been studied, and the findings are promising. It may seem like common sense that we will feel happier if we are kind to others. But research has shown the hormonal and chemical changes that occur can even slow the aging process.
Next Avenue says kindness benefits aging bodies and brains. “Happy chemicals” are produced when we’re consistently kind to others. These include dopamine and the “love and bonding” hormone called oxytocin. Two of the culprits of aging are free radicals and inflammation. However, remarkable research has shown that increased levels of oxytocin can reduce levels of both in the cardiovascular system. This essentially slows aging at the source. There’s also a strong link between compassion and vagus nerve activity. This regulates heart rate and inflammation in the body.
You don’t even have to spend much time or effort in your acts of kindness. Consistent small acts of kindness are just as powerful. Sharing a smile or holding the door for someone can give your immune system a boost. This will ultimately make you feel less anxious and depressed and more resilient.
It’s all about training your behavior and neural circuits. It will eventually become a positive feedback loop. When we are consistently kind to others, we begin regularly producing “happy chemicals”. Our bodies learn this feels good, so we will ultimately continue the cycle. Kindness is also contagious. When we’re kind, it often inspires other to be the same.
Of course, you do not have to be a philanthropist or volunteer hours of your time to feel the benefits. If you have any limitations, think of things you can do from home. Knit or sew blankets for a children’s hospital. Or even just call up an old friend you haven’t spoken to for a while. Not only will you feel happier, but your aging body and brain will clearly benefit. Whether you reduce your blood pressure, improve depression, or simply feel good about yourself, know that you are helping others do the same in the process.