4 ways kindness makes you healthier
You’ve seen the bumper stickers: “Practice random acts of kindness,” they say. Whether it’s having your latte paid for by the man in the car in front of you or a getting a smile from a stranger in the grocery store, kindness almost always puts a little magic in your day. Well, as it happens, when you turn the tables and do something unexpectedly nice for someone else, you don’t just make their day; you give yourself a shot of health.
- A healthier heart. Being kind reduces your blood pressurebecause it increases the levels of the hormone oxytocin (the feel good hormone) in your system. This hormones causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels. This is especially important for black folks because we have a higher likelihood of developing hypertension-induced heart disease than other races.
- Stronger immunity. One study found that people whose happiness was based on doing nice things rather than collectingnice things had less inflammation in their body and more antibodies, which fight disease. In the study, researchers analyzed the white blood cells of healthy volunteers and asked them what made them happy. Those who gave to others had healthier biomarkers than those with more selfish interests.
- Less anxiety. Doing good deeds can make people who suffer from social anxiety feel better, according to research. In a University of British Columbia study, people with high levels of anxiety were directed to do kind acts for other people nearly every day for a month. Actions like buying lunch for a co-worker or holding the door open for someone led to an increase in positive moods and a decrease in social avoidance for the study’s participants.
- Improved relationships. The stronger the emotional bonds within groups, the greater our chances of survival. In fact, “kindness genes” have been hardwired into DNA. When we do something nice for someone else, we feel a connection. This strengthens existing relationships and builds new ones.
Kindness, it seems, is contagious. Studies show that when we’re kind, we inspire others to be kind, too, in a pay-it-forward way. The New York Times reported on a trend of strangers paying for people in the car behind them in the drive-through. And the New England Journal of Medicine presented a case study of an anonymous person walking into a clinic and donating a kidney. The donation led to a nationwide organ drive: Ten people around the country received a new kidney as a consequence of that anonymous donor.
So if a simple act of kindness can make your heart healthier, strengthen your immune system, lower anxiety, help you form stronger connections with loved ones—and spark others to do nice things, too—why wouldn’t you want to practice it?