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Why random acts of kindness help your health
Doing good for others makes the world better, and it can boost your well-being too. Learn why, and ideas for how to help out.
It’s true: Kindness really is its own reward. Ever helped an older person cross a busy street? Stretched up to grab a box of cereal for someone who couldn’t reach? Tied a child’s shoelaces?
If you answered “yes” to any of those, then you know what a random act of kindness can do for others. Chances are, it made you feel better too.
That’s a win for your mental health. And scientists are discovering ways that acts of kindness may be good for your physical health too. Read on to learn how, plus simple ways you can spread more kindness today.
Health benefit #1: Kindness can make you feel happy
One important feel-good hormone is called oxytocin. A hormone is a type of chemical messenger. It’s mostly known for its role in helping new moms bond with their babies. But its benefits go beyond motherhood. Oxytocin rewards you when you connect with another person. It’s also thought to play a role in trust and relationship-building.1,2
Besides oxytocin, acts of kindness release other chemicals linked to well-being, including:
- Serotonin, which can improve your mood3
- Dopamine, which is linked to feelings of pleasure4
- Endorphins, which reduce pain5
“Most of us experience a sense of warmth when we do things that are kind,” explains David Leopold, MD. He’s the medical director of integrative health and medicine at Hackensack Meridian Health in Edison, New Jersey. “That’s probably related to the release of all those hormones and the activation of the relaxation response.”
Health benefit #2: Kindness can be good for your heart
Little acts of kindness make your heart happy, literally. They can make it healthier, too. First, kindness may lower your blood pressure. That’s one key measure of heart health. In one study, spending money on others reduced the blood pressure of older adults at risk of heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.6
That’s because doing something kind can help your body release oxytocin. That chemical is also good for your heart. It sets off a chain reaction of chemicals that opens up your blood vessels. That sends more blood to your heart, helping it do its job better.7
And scientists are looking at other ways oxytocin can help the heart. A recent study in animals shows that it has the potential to repair heart tissue after a heart attack.8
Health benefit #3: Kindness helps with stress
Constant stress can be bad for your health. When you’re stressed, your body releases hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol, into your system. These are chemicals that trigger your fight-or-flight response.9 Usually, your cortisol levels return to normal once the stressful situation passes.
But if you’re always stressed, those levels stay high for too long.9 And your health can suffer. People with chronic stress are at higher risk of many health issues, including:
“Kindness cuts that fight-or-flight response,” says Dr. Leopold. “When we act in ways that are kind, it’s the opposite of being chronically stressed.” Doing nice things for other people may help lower your stress levels.
Health benefit #4: Kindness could help you manage other health conditions
If you have diabetes, you know how challenging it can be to keep your blood sugar levels under control. But a little kindness toward yourself can go a long way.
Research shows that when your blood sugar levels go up, so can your stress response and a sense of failure.10 Learning to practice self-compassion may help. According to a 2023 study, being kind to yourself can actually lead to improved A1c levels.11 (That’s the average percentage of sugar in your blood over the past few months. It shows how under control your diabetes is.)
That makes sense, says Dr. Leopold. “Almost anything that drives the stress response will make diabetes worse.” Acts of kindness, he says, can lower your stress, improve your ability to relax and lower your cortisol levels. That, in turn, can lower your blood sugar.
Research also shows that performing small acts of kindness towards other people may make your immune system stronger.6
How to make kindness a bigger part of your life
You may already be showing kindness in big or small ways every day.
“If you start acting kindly, your day may start to get better,” says Dr. Leopold. “You’ll usually find yourself receiving kindness in return.” Whether it’s an act of service or filling someone’s emotional bucket back up with a kind word or gesture, here are some simple ways to add kindness into your day:
- Call or set up a virtual call with a friend you haven’t spoken to in a long time, just to say hello.
- Clean out your closet, then bring clothes and coats to a local homeless shelter.
- Deliver cookies to a neighbor. Help them carry groceries in from the car. Or walk their dog.
- Let someone go ahead of you in line at the grocery store.
- Offer to listen to someone who’s going through a tough time.
- Pick up an extra coffee for a coworker on the way to the office. Or pay for a cup of coffee for someone behind you in line.
- Send flowers to a sick friend or to your mom or dad.
- Send someone a letter or text, thanking them for something they’ve done for you. Let them know how much you appreciate their kindness.
- Volunteer in your community. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, volunteering reduces stress, boosts happiness and helps you find purpose in your life.12
Bottom line: Kind acts are good for you and others. Plus, it just feels good to be kind. “Those simple acts give happiness, meaning and purpose to your life,” says Dr. Leopold. That’s a big payoff for such a small effort.
Need help getting started? Check out this calendar of ideas to share kindness every day:
- Endocrine Society. Brain Hormones. Last updated January 24, 2022. Accessed September 28, 2023.
- Cleveland Clinic. Oxytocin. Last reviewed March 27, 2022. Accessed September 28, 2023.
- Cleveland Clinic. Serotonin. Last reviewed March 18, 2022. Accessed September 28, 2023.
- Cleveland Clinic. Dopamine. Last reviewed March 23, 2022. Accessed September 28, 2023.
- Cleveland Clinic. Endorphins. Last reviewed March 19, 2022. Accessed September 28, 2023.
- American Heart Association. Does kindness equal happiness and health? Published February 15, 2022. Accessed September 28, 2023.
- Frontiers in Psychology. The Role of Oxytocin in Cardiovascular Protection. Published August 25, 2020. Accessed September 29, 2023.
- Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology. Oxytocin promotes epicardial cell activation and heart regeneration after cardiac injury. Published September 30, 2022. Accessed September 28, 2023.
- National Institutes of Health, StatPearls. Physiology, Stress Reaction. Last updated September 12, 2022. Accessed September 28, 2023.
- Frontiers in Psychology. The role of self-compassion in diabetes management: A rapid review. Published March 30, 2023. Accessed September 28, 2023.
- Experimental & Molecular Medicine. Autonomic control of energy balance and glucose homeostasis. Published April 26, 2022. Accessed September 28, 2023.
- National Alliance on Mental Health. How Volunteering Improves Mental Health. Published February 2, 2022. Accessed September 28, 2023.
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