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Natural Stress Relief: Help Others & Do Your Body Some Good

Relieve stress and pain, boost your immune system and your "happy hormones," fight depression and live longer--the all-natural way! Sounds like an infomercial intro for the latest feel-good-magic pill available for a limited time only, doesn't it? Surprisingly, it accurately describes the natural health benefits of volunteering. Yes, scientific studies continue to prove that helping others not only helps your heart and the spirit, but also your body.

Here's how it works: helping others elevates oxytocin, also known as the "compassion hormone." Volunteering also kick starts endorphins and dopamine, the body's natural opiates or "happy hormones," which decreases stress levels and keeps the body healthy. Plus, by focusing on others, volunteers literally stop focusing on their own aches and pains. They also acquire a sense of belonging and well-being, as well as the aforementioned natural health benefits.

According to UnitedHealthcare and VolunteerMatch, a survey of over 4,000 adults revealed that 68% felt better physically since they started volunteering. Just under 30% stated that volunteering was helping them manage a chronic condition. In fact, adults 65 and older who volunteer over 100 hours a year benefit the most both physically and emotionally. It also helps reduce the likelihood of social isolation and improves the volunteer's sense of his or her own competence. Unfortunately, not everyone benefits from this so-called "helper's high." However, the odds increase significantly if you are interested  in and enjoy your volunteer work. Positive feedback and a sense of purpose also help lead to a feeling of self-worth and appreciation.
 
Meanwhile, scientists continue to study the natural health benefits associated with compassion and generosity. Stephen Post, author of Why Good Things Happen to Good People and director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics at Stony Brook University, says that despite this new science "one of the best ways to get your mind off your aches and pains is to get your mind onto somebody else." 

Source: U.S. News & World Report  November 2010

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