Healthy Tahoe: Health benefits of giving

Amy Smith, FNP
Amy Smith

Acts of kindness like volunteering, donating to charities, or offering emotional support to a loved one often bring about a warm, fuzzy feeling, especially during the holidays. This happiness and satisfaction we get from gift-giving makes us feel good, but there are also real health benefits to helping others.  

Studies show giving can help you live longer and feel happier, particularly for older adults. People who give their time to help others through community and volunteerism have less depression, increased self-esteem, and experience a longer life. Other benefits include improved physical health and a greater sense of well-being.  

According to a study published in the journal, Psychology and Aging, the amount of time spent helping others as a volunteer is proven to reduce the risk of high blood pressure, which is a major contributor to cardiovascular disease—the leading cause of death in the United States. 

Giving can also make you feel happier by activating regions of the brain associated with pleasure and connection with other people. Evidence suggests, during gift-giving behaviors, humans secrete chemicals in our brains, such as serotonin (a mood-mediating chemical), dopamine (a feel-good chemical), and oxytocin (a compassion and bonding chemical). This is why you feel excitement when you’re about to give a gift to someone else, or why you feel blissful after having completed a volunteer experience. 

Volunteering is also proven to reduce the risk of depression. According to the Mayo Clinic, research has shown that volunteering leads to lower rates of depression, especially for individuals age 65 and older. The social connection involved with volunteer opportunities can decrease the effects of stress and help people maintain communication and social skills, providing protection for mental functions during aging.  

The holidays bring out the giver in all of us. Take this time to reach out to someone in need or identify opportunities to safely give back in your community. Watch your health improve and enjoy the personal fulfillment that comes with giving. 

Amy Smith is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner who sees patients for preventive care and integrative medicine at the Center for Orthopedics & Wellness in South Lake Tahoe, CA. For more information call 530-539-6620 or visit 

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