Helping Others Extends Life

It is well known that social isolation is associated with a higher risk of illness and death. So is the opposite beneficial to one’s health? More specifically, does offering help to others increase one’s life?

Michael Poulin, PhD used a survey data from the Michigan Changing Lives of Older Couples study to assess the relationship between stress, helping behavior and mortality. The study found that life stresses, such as serious non-life-threatening illness, job loss, financial difficulties, and death of a close friend or family member, increased the risk of death by about 30% in people who did not help others in the preceding year. In other words stressful events had no effect on mortality risk for people who helped others.

Another study in 2011 indicates that the motivation behind helping others has a significant effect on health. When motivation was “self-oriented” – i.e., people helped others to gain a skill, forget their own problems, or improve their self-esteem – they had a mortality risk similar to non-volunteers. Those who volunteered for ‘other-oriented’, altruistic reasons had a decreased mortality risk. At the end of the study 4.3% of non-volunteers, 4.0% of self-oriented volunteers, and 1.6% of other-oriented volunteers had died.

Terry Pfau DO, HMD

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