5 Ways Philanthropy Keeps You Healthy

By Neal Broverman

Originally published on Advocate.com November 01 2012 3:03 AM ET

Quitting smoking. Losing weight. Getting toned. While most New Year’s resolutions are admirable, they’re often heavy on self-involvement. By turning the focus outward and concentrating on giving back in 2013, you can help others while you help yourself. A wealth of studies show that philanthropy in its many forms — reading to children, volunteering at a soup kitchen, cleaning up your neighborhood, taking part in AIDS walks — can yield dramatic physical results for the giver. Here’s what you can expect if you embrace altruism in the coming year.

Reduced stress:
A long-term study from Cornell University found that people who volunteered were not only less anxious than those who did not, they stayed that way for decades. Giving back may provide people, particularly seniors not busy raising a family or building a career, an important sense of purpose. The benefits can be about chemistry too, as the brain often releases dopamine and serotonin when we’re thinking about helping others.

Happier days:
Those who introduce philanthropy into their lives often experience fewer bouts of depression. It likely has to do with the added sense of purpose and shifting focus to alleviating others’ problems instead of fixating on one’s own.

More agility:
Researchers recently looked at a group of seniors volunteering at a Baltimore elementary school. Over the course of eight months, their walking and stair-climbing speed improved, and compared with those who didn’t volunteer, participants reported fewer hours of TV viewing, which often correlates to better health.

Multiple benefits:
Signing up for a cancer walk or an HIV bike ride requires exercise and, in the latter case, training. There’s also the social benefit to volunteering. You’re exposed to like-minded people who often become new friends—a verified stress reliever and life extender.  

Above: Jeff Smith (right) kisses his partner, Darren Nystrom (left), before beginning the annual AIDS/LifeCycle event in San Francisco, California.

Not sure where to begin? Try VolunteerMatch.org or Idealist.org.