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How holiday giving can improve your mental and physical health

How holiday giving can improve your mental and physical health

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While the holiday season is associated with giving gifts to family and friends, it’s also the season of giving back to the community. Though it may seem impossible to find time for charity amidst the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping, decorating and cooking, there are a number of ways to help those in need have a warm and fulfilling holiday, whether it’s through charitable donations or volunteered time.

Giving back is not only beneficial for those who need it most but it also has been shown to help boost your overall mental and physical health. That’s why the team at Midwest Express Clinic wants to dive into how charitable giving enhances your health and share some tips on how you can give back to your community this holiday season.

Why giving back feels so good

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You know that warm and fuzzy feeling you get when you give someone a present? There’s a scientific explanation for it. Charitable giving has been shown to activate regions of the brain that are associated with pleasure and connecting with others. When people engage in gift-giving or charitable behaviors, the brain releases “feel good” chemicals such as serotonin (a chemical that moderates a person’s overall mood), oxytocin (a loving and compassion chemical) and dopamine (a pleasure and satisfaction chemical).

Scientists have used functional MRI scans to analyze brain activity in several people who had recently engaged in charitable activities. The researchers found that charitable activity initiates the mesolimbic pathway (the reward center of the brain) to release endorphins, which is why we get that warm and fuzzy feeling from acts of charitable giving.

The simultaneous release of endorphins, serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin as a result of giving back helps boost a person’s general mood and initiates feelings of satisfaction and happiness, thus enhancing a person’s mental health as a whole.

Giving back can help you live longer

You read that right — charitable giving not only feels good, but it can even help you live longer. According to a study conducted by the University of Michigan, people over 55 who volunteered for two or more charitable organizations were 44% less likely to die within five years than those who did not volunteer. Many of the study subjects who volunteered for charitable work showed improvements in their health, such as lowered blood pressure and lowered stress levels, which likely contributed to their lower risk of death compared to the subjects who did not volunteer at all.

How you can give back this holiday season

Looking for ways to give back to your community? Here are just a few of the many ways you can help those in need this holiday season.

  • Donate new toys to a local toy drive.
  • Volunteer at a homeless shelter.
  • Host a holiday food drive and give the donations to a local food bank.
  • Donate warm winter clothing to those in need.
  • Volunteer at a nursing home.
  • Use a portion of your holiday gift budget to buy presents for a family in need.

Whether it’s donations, volunteer time or simply helping a neighbor or loved one, there are endless opportunities to give back this holiday season. By engaging in charitable activities, you can feel better, live longer and help those who need it most in your community.

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