Kindness - Dr. Axe

Several studies show that exercising kindness boosts happiness levels, but new evidence shows it also promotes healthier aging, too.

Adding a little kindness into your day can boost your self esteem, support your immune system, improve the health of your heart and promote healthy aging.

So why not add small acts of kindness to your day?  Being kind creates a ripple effect that inspires those around you. Think how we can make small changes in our communities with kindness and learn how to be happy at the same time. It’s definitely a win-win.

What Does Kindness Mean?

Kindness involves enacting kind behaviors toward other people. It doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming — it’s simply showing a bit of love, gratitude and compassion to the people around you.

And did you know that kindness is actually contagious? Simply observing an act of kindness can boost happiness levels and make the viewer more likely to practice kindness. This is exactly why the “pay it forward” method works so well.

Random Acts of Kindness

Practicing kindness is like lifting weights — you need to exercise kindness and strengthen those muscles over time. The best way to do that is to perform random acts of kindness every day. You’ll notice that it boosts your optimism, self esteem and overall happiness — making you want to enact kind behaviors even more often.

Here are some random acts of kindness you can try:

  1. Hold the door for strangers
  2. Plant a tree in your neighborhood
  3. Pick up litter at the park or beach
  4. Pay for someone’s coffee (or dry cleaning, lunch, groceries, ice cream)
  5. Get involved with a fundraiser
  6. Compliment a stranger
  7. Write a letter showing gratitude
  8. Write a positive review for a local business
  9. Mow your neighbor’s lawn
  10. Mentor a young person
  11. Prepare a meal for a family in need
  12. Recycle, even when you aren’t home
  13. Volunteer your time at a non-profit
  14. Bring your nieces and nephews out for a treat
  15. Gift your spouse or loved one with a massage
  16. Walk your neighbor’s dog
  17. Contribute to a community garden
  18. Grow vegetables and share them with neighbors
  19. Donate clothes or home goods
  20. Smile at work

Health Benefits of Kindness

There are many health benefits of kindness, and most only take a few seconds or minutes of your day. Here’s how kindness impacts your health:

  • Boosts happiness
  • Increases feelings of self worth
  • Improves self esteem and self worth
  • Improves anxiety
  • Reduces pain
  • Fights stress
  • Improves depression
  • Reduces blood pressure
  • Boosts immunity
  • Improves relationships
  • Increases longevity

Kindness Makes the Body Younger?

And here’s where it gets really interesting. The recent randomized controlled trial conducted by scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that practicing loving-kindness meditation may actually slow aging.

When 142 middle-aged adults participated in mindfulness meditation, loving-kindness meditation or a “waitlist” control group during a 6-week workshop, scientists recorded their telomere length. The participants in meditation groups attended six hour-long group meditation classes once a week and practiced meditation at home for 20 minutes per day using an audio recording.

Telomeres, the markers used for this study, are known as hallmarks of aging. They’re the protective caps at the end of  chromosomes that prevent them from damage. As we age, telomeres begin to wear down and shorten. Studies show that this is associated with a number of health issues, including DNA damage and cancer. In fact, telomere length is directly related to longevity.

And we know lifestyle factors, like getting regular exercise and eating a healthy diet, reduce the rate of telomere loss, while factors like chronic stress and living a sedentary life wear them down earlier in life.

The meditation study found that the loving-kindness meditation group lost significantly less telomere length than the other groups. The mindfulness meditation group showed changes in telomere length that were intermediate between the loving-kindness and control groups.

Researchers concluded that loving-kindness meditation may work to “buffer telomere attrition,” thereby serving as a tool for healthy aging.

Want to give loving-kindness meditation a try? Here’s an exercise from Berkeley’s Greater Good in Action program.

How Kindness Changes Your Brain and Body

A 2019 study published in the Journal of Social Psychology tested whether performing different types of kindness activities impacts happiness. Researchers found that performing kindness activities for seven days increased happiness levels. And they also found a positive correlation between the number of kind acts and increases in happiness.

And a study published in Journal of Happiness Studies indicates that happy people scored higher on their recognition and enactment of kind behaviors. Female undergraduate students in Japan reported that their subjective happiness increased simply by counting their own acts of kindness in one week.

The study results suggest that happy people become even more kind and grateful when they think back on their kindness, and a person’s strength of kindness plays an important role in increasing happiness.

Clearly there’s a powerful kindness-happiness connection, but why does this occur? Kindness affects the brain and body in several ways, including the following:

  • Boosts oxytocin: Witnessing or engaging in acts of kindness produces oxytocin, which is known as the “love hormone.” A boost in oxytocin can lead to a feeling calmness, joy, generosity and compassion. Oxytocin also releases nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels and reduces blood pressure, and reduces free radicals that cause disease.
  • Stimulates serotonin production: Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that sends messages from one area of the brain to another. It works to control your mood and reduces the production of stress hormones.
  • Reduces cortisol: People who engage in acts of kindness consistently produce less cortisol, a main stress hormone.
  • Triggers the “helper’s high” phenomenon: Being kind stimulates the brain’s pleasure and reward centers, causing what’s referred to as the “helper’s high.” This is due to increased dopamine levels after performing acts of kindness.

Checklist of Working Healthy Aging Hacks Into Your Day

Are you loving the healthy aging benefits of kindness? Here are other simple ways to keep your mind and body sharp even as you age.

Morning

  • Prep your skin with a natural youth serum, like this Homemade Anti-Aging Serum
  • Use natural, chemical-free makeup products, like this DIY Foundation Makeup
  • Set aside 10 to 30 minutes for mindfulness meditation
  • Short on time? Just add collagen to your morning smoothie or cup of coffee

Lunch

  • Drink a cup of green tea
  • Eat a nutrient-rich lunch that’s packed with anti-aging foods like avocado, nuts, bone broth, turmeric, cooked vegetables, coconut-based products and salmon
  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes (if you haven’t already)
  • Practice a simple act of kindness toward someone at work or a complete stranger

Evening

  • Enjoy an occasional glass of red wine and piece of quality dark chocolate (both contain resveratrol)
  • Stick to healthy desserts and limit simple carbs
  • Use anti-aging essential oils in the shower or bath, like frankincense, myrrh and lavender
  • Take your daily supplements (if you haven’t already), especially probiotics, digestive enzymes and adaptogenic mushrooms

Bedtime

  • Try oil pulling or a saltwater rinse
  • Wash your face with a natural and gentle cleanser
  • Read a positive book, magazine or article
  • Limit screen time
  • Get to bed early and embrace sleep

Weekends

  • Practice simple stress relievers, like taking a walk outdoors, grounding, taking a yoga class or getting a massage
  • Spend time with loved ones
  • Engage in healing prayer or meditation
  • Create a calm environment
  • Move your body

Final Thoughts

  • Not only does practicing kindness positively impact the health of your brain, heart and immune system, but it also employs healthy aging effects.
  • Adding small acts of kindness to your day, like offering compliments, holding the door or preparing a meal for someone in need, will improve your own mood and health, and support the health of people around you too.

The post Kindness Slows Aging and Should Be Part of Everyone’s Wellness Plan appeared first on Dr. Axe.