Help your neighbors and your heart: Being kind has many health benefits

Key takeaways:   

  • Acts of kindness release hormones and chemicals in our bodies that help us feel better physically and mentally. 

  • Being kind can boost levels of oxytocin, a hormone that helps reduce inflammation and blood pressure. 

  • Kindness can also increase endorphins in your body, which eases pain and increases energy. 

[4 MIN READ] 

Remember how it felt that time someone bought your coffee in the Starbucks drive-through? Or that rainy evening when your neighbor helped you carry in your groceries?  

And then there’s the time you left an extra package of toilet paper on your friend’s steps at the start of the COVID-19 pandemicAnd that weekend when you baked lasagna for your elderly neighbor. 

Chances are, whether you were giving or receiving an act of kindness, you felt that same positive, warm-and-fuzzy feeling. That’s because being kind benefits everyone involved. It not only brightens the recipient’s spirit — it can also help improve your overall health and wellbeing.  

That’s right — being kind may make you healthier. 

With Random Acts of Kindness Week approaching (February 14-20), it’s the perfect time to think of doing something a little extra for friend, loved one or even a stranger. In the end, you may also be helping yourself.  

The benefits of being kind 

Numerous studies have shown that random acts of kindness can:  

  • Improve mood 

  • Reduce depression and anxiety 

  • Lower stress 

  • Ease pain 

  • Boost energy 

  • Reduce risk factors for heart disease 

How does kindness do all this? It turns out that being kind releases different hormones and chemicals in the body that make you feel good. Those hormones can bolster your cardiovascular system, which ultimately affects your risk for heart attack and stroke. 

Since February also marks National Heart Month, let’s dive deeper into the science behind being kind and how it can benefit your heart health. 

How can kindness improve your heart health? 

Think about how you feel after doing something kind. Most likely, you feel a mental or emotional benefit. That’s because being kind releases the chemical serotonin, which helps regulate mood. A rush of serotonin can make you feel happy and calm you down.  

Benefits of being kind don’t stop in the brain. Research has shown that kindness can have physical benefits, too, particularly for the heart. 

But the benefits of being kind don’t stop in the brain. Research has shown that kindness can have physical benefits, too, particularly for the heart. 

It lowers blood pressure 

When you’re kind to someone, it can foster an emotional warmth in your mind and body. This prompts the body to produce oxytocin, often called “the love hormone.”  

From an emotional standpoint, oxytocin can make you feel more confident and optimistic. Physically, oxytocin can help lower your blood pressure. It does this by releasing the chemical nitric oxide into the blood vessels. This chemical helps expand the blood vessels, which reduces blood pressure.  

Research backs up this link between kindness and low blood pressure. A 2015 study showed that people who spent money on others were more likely to have a lower blood pressure than those who spent money on themselves.    

Having high blood pressure is one of the most significant risk factors for heart attack and stroke. High blood pressure can put extra strain on the arteries or damage them, affecting how blood flows to the heart and brain. By lowering your blood pressure, you’re decreasing your risk of developing a heart condition. 

It reduces inflammation  

Oxytocin can do more than boost mood and lower blood pressure. It can also reduce inflammation and limit free radicals in the body. This plays a role in heart heath, too. 

Free radicals are chemicals that can affect cholesterol levels. These chemicals make LDL cholesterol (or the “bad” cholesterol) more likely to stick to artery walls, reducing blood flow and increasing the risk for a heart attack or stroke.  

And although doctors haven’t found a direct link between inflammation and heart disease, inflammation can increase the risk for artery plaque to rupture and get into the bloodstream or create a blood clot.  

It reduces anxiety and improves mood 

That rush of serotonin and dopamine you get when you do something kind can give a serious boost to your mental healthThis is also called the “helper’s high,” and it can make you feel happy and reduce stress. 

2019 study also showed that kindness can help anxiety. The research, which took place at Iowa State University, found that students who practiced loving-kindness or wished others well felt more connected, happier and less anxious.  

What does this have to do with heart health? High levels of stress and anxiety are often linked to cardiovascular disease. This is because your body’s stress response releases hormones that increase blood pressure and affect the heart’s rhythm. The stress response can also make blood platelets more likely to stick together and clot, increasing the risk for heart attack or stroke.  

It boosts energy 

Research has also shown that giving back, whether it’s through money or volunteering, can help reduce pain and boost energy because it releases endorphins, hormones that act as a natural painkiller.  

Giving back, whether it’s through money or volunteering, can help reduce pain and boost energy because it releases endorphins, hormones that act as a natural painkiller.  

A study published in 2020 found that altruistic behaviors, such as helping an orphan group, can relieve physical pain. 

With less pain and more energy, you’re more likely to stay physically active — one of the most essential parts of a heart-healthy lifestyle. The positive mental benefits that come with kindness can also keep you motivated to stay active.  

Be kind to your neighbors and your heart 

Kindness has physical and emotional benefits on both sides of the table. In the end, everyone feels better when we’re kind to one other.  

What’s more, kindness helps build relationships and community, which ultimately makes us all stronger. And after a year like 2020, we know more than ever the importance of community, relationships and compassion. It affects our health in more ways than we could imagine. So, the next time you see someone in need of a hug, or a community group that is in need of food donations, try lending a hand! You’ll be amazed at how good you feel. 

 

How are you planning to celebrate Random Acts of #Kindness Week? Whatever you do, it may help your heart, too. Share your plans with us! @providence #RAKtivist #heartmonth 

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Find a doctor 

If you want to learn about more ways to keep your heart healthy, talk to your doctor or a cardiologist. You can find a Providence cardiologist using our provider directory. Or, you can search for a primary care doctor in your area.  

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Related resources

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Heart & Vascular Team is committed to bringing you many years of expertise and experience to help you understand how to prevent, treat and recover from cardiovascular diseases and conditions. From tips to eating better to exercise and everything in between, our clinical experts know how to help you help your heart.

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