With the holidays quickly approaching, this time of year is when many of us want to give back. Whether it's adopting a family for the holidays, gathering clothing for a coat drive or donating your time at a food bank, the holiday season is a popular time for charitable efforts. While we think that volunteering and raising money does a lot for those in need, turns out, it does just as much for the giver as the receiver. According to new research that looks at the brain, we get a boost to our health when we give support to others.
Researchers at UCLA studied 20 young heterosexual couples who were in good relationships. The 20 women in the couples had brain scans done on them while their boyfriends received painful electric shocks. At times, the women could provide support by holding the arm of their boyfriends and at other times they couldn't. The researchers found that when women gave support to their boyfriends in pain, they showed increased activity in reward-related regions of the brain, similar to what researchers would see if they had given the women chocolate or money. In addition, the more reward-related neural activity these women showed, the more connected they reported feeling with their boyfriends. When the women weren't able to give support, these regions of the brain showed decreased activity. The researchers also found giving support decreased activity in the amygdala, which plays a role in fear- and stress-reduction, according to ScienceDaily.
Jennipher Walters is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites FitBottomedGirls.com and FitBottomedMamas.com. A certified personal trainer, lifestyle and weight management coach and group exercise instructor, she also holds an MA in health journalism and regularly writes about all things fitness and wellness for various online publications.