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Good Deeds Correlated with Good Health

Stephen G. Post, professor of bioethics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, recently headed a comprehensive study of altruism where he evaluated 50 scientific studies of people who regularly volunteered their time.

One of the studies, from Cornell University, spent 30 years following 427 women who were married and had children. Researchers found that only 36 percent of women who regularly volunteered had experienced a major illness, while 52 percent of those who never volunteered had a major illness. Post writes, "Surprisingly, they found that numbers of children, education, class, and work status did not affect longevity."

Other studies indicated that those who volunteered their time lived longer than those who didn't. In fact, people who volunteered frequently had a 44 percent reduction in early death when compared to non-volunteers.

Scientists also identified precise areas of the brain that are highly active during empathic and compassionate emotions. Commenting on these areas, Post said:

This is extremely important. This is the care-and-connection part of the brain. It is a very different part of the brain than is active with romantic love. These brain studies show this profound state of joy and delight that comes from giving to others. It doesn't come from any dry action—where the act is out of duty in the narrowest sense, like writing a check for a good cause. It comes from working to cultivate a generous quality— from interacting with people. There is the smile, the tone in the voice, the touch on the shoulder. We're talking about altruistic love.

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