Long live the samaritan

Study suggests that those who help others stay healthier and live longer

Touching
Those who touch others lives stay healthier and live longer

A good Samaritan helps without expectation of any benefit. However a recent study published online in the American Journal of Public Health has proved that the samaritan does get the benefit of good health and a lengthy life.

Principal investigator Michael J. Poulin, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo, says, "This study offers a significant contribution to our understanding of how giving assistance to others may offer health benefits to the giver by buffering the negative effects of stress."

Poulin, along with colleagues at Stony Brook University and Grand Valley State University, have established that giver benefits more than the recipient. This is a bit counter-intuitive— stress reduces our life, and receiving help should reduce stress and hence lengthen life but it is giving help that is found beneficial. No studies have been able to establish that receiving help makes us live longer or healthier.

Poulin says, "We tested the hypothesis that providing help to others would predict a reduced association between stress and mortality for the helpers. Specifically, over the five years of the study, we found that when dealing with stressful situations, those who had helped others during the previous year were less likely to die than those who had not helped others," he says.

The study's assessed stressful events the 846 participants had experienced in the previous year and also whether they had provided tangible assistance to friends or family members in the past year. Stressful events included serious illness, burglary, loss of a paying job, financial difficulties and death of a loved one. Examples of the assistance the participants provided to others were providing vehicle for transportation, doing errands and shopping, performing household chores, taking care of a child and such similar tasks.

"When we adjusted for age, baseline health and functioning and key psychosocial variables," Poulin says, "the Cox proportional hazard models [the most widely used method of survival analysis] for mortality revealed a significant interaction between helping behaviour, stressful events, morbidity and mortality."

"Our conclusion," he says, "is that helping others reduced mortality specifically by buffering the association between stress and mortality.

"These findings go beyond past analysis to indicate that the health benefits of helping behaviour derive specifically from stress-buffering processes," Poulin says, "and provide important guidance for understanding why helping behaviour specifically may promote health and, potentially, for how social processes in general may influence health."

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