Supporting others can boost overall health
Offering support to someone else not only makes us feel better, but it can also have a positive effect on certain areas of the brain, according to a recent study.
Findings published in the Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine used types of neuroimaging tasks to see how certain areas of the brain reacted to stress, reward and caregiving. Researchers then looked at how each of these tasks were affected by giving versus receiving support.
“Helping others makes one feel grateful for what you have and can help distract you from your own problems,” says Dr. Chandragupta Vedak, a psychiatrist at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington, Ill. “Studies even show that volunteers tend to live longer and have better physical health than non-volunteers.”
Researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to show stimulation on certain brain areas in response to different types of activities. MRI scans showed a difference in brain activity that was associated with giving support, but not receiving it. Participants who reported giving the most support had lowered activation in brain areas related to stress reactions.
Giving support was also associated with improved activity in the reward system area of the brain. When participants saw pictures of loved ones and had an opportunity to win money for someone in need, their stress levels were reduced.
“It is not surprising that the study shows that brains of people who lend support tend to be less affected by stress,” says Dr. Vedak.
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