Why being kind is good for your health

Family & Relationships

by Kathryn Greiner, MD

Nov 13, 2019

No one sets out to be unkind to others, but it’s all too easy to get caught up in this “me, me, me” world we live in. When was the last time you did something kind for someone else — not because you had to and without receiving any kind of reward in return?

If you don’t find yourself getting the warm and fuzzy feelings that come from simply performing altruistic acts, then also consider that being kind is good for both your mental and physical health.

How, you ask? The health benefits are related to the hormones and neurotransmitters in our brains that are released when we do something kind for others, namely dopamine and oxytocin.

A boost to your mental and physical health

Acting as the contributor of a kind act can make you feel as good as, if not better than, being the receiver of the kind act.

A study conducted at Emory University used functional MRIs to monitor the brain’s activity. The results showed that the pleasure and reward centers in your brain light up when you do something nice. Being kind also stimulates serotonin, much in the same way that prescription antidepressant pills can, which improves both anxiety and depression.

Go ahead and do something kind. Whether you get a “thank you” in return or not, your body and your brain will be grateful.

These hormones and neurotransmitters have a long list of ways that they impact your body physically. A few of these are:

  • Oxytocin: Lowers blood pressure by dilating your blood vessels. Being kind protects your heart!
  • Cortisol: One of our body’s stress hormones that decreases when we act kindly. Lower levels of cortisol mean lower blood pressure and easier weight loss, as high cortisol levels make you hold onto stored abdominal fat. Lower cortisol levels also increase your overall lifespan. 
  • Endorphins: Decrease symptoms of pain. Endorphins act as your body’s natural painkillers.
  • Serotonin: Increases when we act kindly, which leads to increased levels of energy.

How to practice small acts of kindness

Small acts of kindness give you this boost in neurotransmitters and hormones. You may not be able to perform a grand gesture every day, but consider smaller, easier and oftentimes free acts of kindness.

Today, you can…

  • Smile at a stranger.
  • Hold the door open for the person behind you.
  • If you have extra money for the month, give it to someone who is in need rather than spending it on yourself.
  • Avoid getting into a political debate on social media.
  • Help an elderly neighbor carry in their groceries or mow their yard.
  • Volunteer to babysit for a friend who is short on time.

Go ahead and do something kind. Whether you get a “thank you” in return or not, your body and your brain will be grateful.

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About the Author

Kathryn Greiner, MD, is a family medicine physician on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Clinic – College Station University Drive. She attended medical school and completed her residency at Texas A&M Science Center College of Medicine. Dr. Greiner enjoys teaching her patients how to partner with her for a healthier life. She is married with three children. Book an appointment with Dr. Greiner today.

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