Thursday, 3 April 2014

How Helping Others Improves Your Health

When Mark Pieloch gave $1.5 million to the Capital Humane Society of Lincoln, Nebraska, it wasn’t because he wanted publicity. It was because he wanted to help the many homeless cats, dogs and other animals in the Lincoln area find good homes. Pieloch is the owner of PSPC Inc., a business based on helping animals. The firm develops and manufactures palatable medications for cats, dogs and horses. Yes, he’s a smart businessman, but he also knows the value of giving back to the community.

Pieloch and others who regularly donate money or volunteer time to organizations and individuals in need reap benefits they never expected. Many who give find themselves receiving far more than the simple pleasure of knowing they made a difference. As it turns out, giving is good for human biology.

A Charitable “High”?

A study done by the National Institutes of Health found that when people donate to charities, regions of the brain associated with pleasure, trust and social connection are activated, giving people a positive feeling of warmth. People often experience a “high” when they volunteer. Called a “helper’s high,” scientists found that volunteering releases endorphins that give participants a sense of elation. Giving promotes social connection and cooperation, strengthening bonds and enhancing feelings of happiness. Giving also evokes feelings of gratitude, which leads to greater personal happiness.

Volunteers Get Healthy Benefit

The elderly and chronically ill are often on the receiving end of giving, but research shows that when those in both groups volunteer or give to charities, their own health improves dramatically. In Doug Oman’s 1999 University of California study, it was found that elderly participants who volunteered for two or more charitable organizations were 44 percent less likely to die in the next five years than were the non-volunteers. American Psychological Association research found that older adults who volunteer at least 200 hours per year, or 16 hours per month, reduced their risk of hypertension by 40 percent.

A recent study conducted by the Corporation for National and Community Service found that people with coronary artery disease who volunteer after a heart attack suffered less from despair, recovered faster and added years to their lives. Volunteers are also less likely to suffer heart-related diseases in the first place. People who volunteer suffer less from depression and are more satisfied with life than those who don’t.

There are certainly tangible rewards when people give. Pieloch’s generous donation to the Capital Humane Society enabled the organization to build a much-needed adoption center. Now, more cats, dogs and other companion animals are finding loving homes than ever before. His donation to the Syracuse Foundation helped build the Syracuse Sports Complex used by community families. His gift to the Central Florida Animal Preserve enabled the big cat sanctuary to repair damage caused by a severe windstorm. As he and other donors know, giving is not just about the tangibles, it’s an essential part of being part of the human family