Can Practising Kindness to Others — and Yourself — Actually Help You Live Longer?
Practising kindness to others has been linked to better stress management, better heart health and even longevity. Photo: Fly View Productions/Getty Images
Longevity may be the most important trend we’ve ever experienced. It’s driven by — and in turn, it affects — everything from health to housing, money to technology, lifestyle to social policy. There’s so much to be aware of — and it’s just getting started! Now you can keep up with all the latest developments in this weekly column.
We know, in general terms, that stress is bad for your health. We know also that optimism, having a positive mental attitude, has been associated with longevity. There is a body of literature on how to achieve this, from meditation techniques to forms of physical exercise.
But this very interesting article zeroes in on one particular component of positivity: kindness.
Kindness is more than merely desirable, in a vague way that nobody would argue about; it’s actively beneficial. The article quotes Dr. Kelli Harding, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center: “Small acts of kindness are as essential and often overlooked component of health.”
Kindness can be practised toward others, but it’s particularly important to extend it to ourselves. Positive results include:
- Antidote to Stress According to Dr. Harding, “On an individual level, kindness buffers stress. It lowers cortisol and blood pressure, reduces pain, anxiety, depression, and boosts the immune system”
- Relief of Anxiety and Depression “In one study, practising meditation that promotes positivity and kindness for yourself and others (rather than anger or self-loathing) was found to be effective in helping treat depression and social anxiety alone or when included in cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), a standard-of-care treatment”
- Improvement of Heart Health Research suggests people who have a purpose in life and are optimistic, have a lower likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease. Practising kindness can enhance this
- Help With Diabetes Management “According to research, people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes who practised self-compassion for eight weeks had reduced depression scores and…also decreased their A1C scores.” Stress hormones can elevate blood sugar
- Specific Promotion of Longevity Telomeres are part of our DNA that play an important role in cell growth. We know that their length shortens as we age. A 2019 study showed that participation in a six-week workshop on cultivating kindness through meditation helped protect telomeres. This may help slow the aging process. What was interesting here is that people who did a more general mindfulness meditation did not show the same health benefit when it came to telomere length; “it was only seen in those who were specifically focusing on kindness”
I suppose it’s a measure of how little I know about this, that I didn’t realize there was such a thing as kindness meditation, as opposed to general mindfulness meditation.
It turns out that kindness is a form, or practice, of meditation. It’s sometimes called loving-kindness meditation, and you can find out more about it here and here.
I’m going to try it, and I’ll let you know how I do.
David Cravit is a Vice-President at ZoomerMedia, and Chief Membership Officer of CARP. He is also the author of two books on the “reinvention” of aging. You can check out some of his other writing here.