IT'S better to give than to receive. While this may sound like common sense to some, or perhaps a touch trite to others, scientific evidence irrefutably demonstrates that simple acts of kindness, which need neither cost a lot of money, nor require vast amounts of time, can be as good for you as the person receiving your gesture. It is no longer uncommon for volunteers well into their eighth, ninth and remarkably even tenth decades to be regularly assisting local organisations, for no financial recompense whatsoever, yet with genuine smiles on their faces.

And although it would be easy to say, “why bother?”, those who help others live longer and report lower levels of both physical and mental ill health. The effect of volunteering can be as beneficial as five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

Kindness is somewhat difficult to define, but it is often thought of as an action or gesture, no matter how small, done for the benefit of another, or others, without expecting reward.

It has been shown to improve our health and wellbeing in several ways. Acts of kindness increase levels of the hormone oxytocin, which causes the release of the chemical nitric oxide (NO). NO causes blood vessels to dilate, reducing blood pressure. Raised blood pressure is one of the biggest contributors to the development of heart disease. Kindness has also been demonstrated to decrease levels of inflammation in the body. Excess inflammation is linked with greater risk of heart disease, diabetes, joint conditions and even cancer.

Kindness benefits our mental health in multiple ways. It raises concentrations of the feel-good chemical serotonin in the brain, which may be sustained for up to seven days after a single act of kindness. It causes a drop in cortisol, the hormone associated with the fight or flight response, and the emotions of fear and pain. Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) demonstrates reduced activity in the amygdala, the area of the brain associated with fear, in those who regularly practice kindness.

The perception of pain can also be affected by kindness. Those who give blood report less pain when donating than when a blood sample is taken for other reasons.

It has been found that kindness may be as effective in the management of anxiety and depression as counselling and medication.

Kindness also has the ability to refocus your perception.