Health & Diet

Giving Is Good for You

It’s Good for Your Health

There’s a good deal of evidence that giving your time can benefit your health—and perhaps even delay age-related ills.

For example, when a group of investigators led by Nicole Anderson, a senior scientist at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute in Toronto and associate professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, reviewed 73 studies on the subject, “we found strong evidence that volunteers had decreased symptoms of depression, better self-reported health, fewer functional limitations, and lived longer than non-volunteers,” she says. “There is also emerging evidence that volunteering is associated with cognitive gains.”

What about donating money rather than time? There’s evidence that this is literally good for your heart.

When former colleagues of Aknin gave 73 adults aged 73 to 85 $40 a week with instructions to spend it on either themselves or others, “people assigned to use the money in generous ways showed a significant reduction in blood pressure,” study co-author Elizabeth Dunn, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, wrote in The New York Times. “To our surprise, this change was similar in magnitude to what is typically observed when people start engaging in aerobic exercise.”

A subsequent US study found that, even after controlling for factors such as income, physical activity, and marital status, generosity was linked with lower blood pressure.

It Can Provide a Sense of Purpose

If your career is what gave your life meaning, you may find yourself floundering when you retire; supporting a cause that’s close to your heart is one way to continue feeling useful.

And as with volunteering, dozens of studies have linked having a strong sense of purpose in later life with a lower likelihood of a host of health woes; in one recent study, older adults who reported higher levels of such inner motivation tended to retain stronger grip strength and faster walking speed, which are key measures of how rapidly people are aging.

For Ellen Rosen, contributing to London Health Sciences Foundation is a way of continuing to foster the health and well-being of women and children in her community by, for example, funding both an innovative program to help women with urinary incontinence achieve better bladder control and the Michael Gunning Simulation Centre, where medical students, residents, and nurses can learn how to start IVs and practise responding to relatively rare life-threatening emergencies on computer-programmable “patients.” (The centre is named for the late donor Michael Gunning, who left a legacy of $1,125,000.)

“It means a lot to me to support programs that can’t be fully supported by Ministry of Health money,” Rosen says.

“One thing that surprised me when I got involved in working with the foundation is how much of the expenditure in health care is not funded by the government,” Beth Traynor says. “That we have access to cutting-edge technology here in London is largely because of private donations that allow the hospital to buy things such as the robot that helped the gynecologist do my hysterectomy.”

It Improves the Lives of Others…