How Being Kind Can Keep You Young
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How Being Kind Can Keep You YoungCounter The Effects Of Aging With Kindness!
Have you noticed that stress or worry can make a person’s hair go white? Or how anger and contempt can etch lines on a face?
Feelings impact the ageing process! That’s a fact.
Specifically, stress, anger and hostility can cause a process called oxidation in the skin, joints and arteries.
Oxidation? Have you ever cut an apple in half and left it on the table? If so, you’ll have noticed it quickly going brown. This is oxidation.
Oxidation speeds up ageing in the human body (just as it does with an apple) and it can be a side-effect of mental and emotional stress, lifestyle or even consistently unhealthy dietary choices. It doesn’t happen quite as fast in the human body as it does in a sliced apple left on the table so don’t worry, but oxidation is responsible for many of the visible signs of ageing. It’s caused by what are known as free radicals.
Here’s a simple way to think of a free radical. Think of what Harry Potter’s spectacles look like: two ‘O’s and a little bridge between them. His spectacles are the exact shape of oxygen; the stuff you breathe. Oxygen – O2 – has two ‘O’ atoms and a bond (bridge) connecting them, as in O–O.
Now imagine Harry gets hit by one of Draco Malfoy’s spells and it snaps the bridge of his spectacles. So now he has two single lenses that are no longer bonded to one another. When this happens to oxygen, not due to one of Draco’s spells but due to some kind of stress, the two ‘O’s are said to be free radicals.
Once unbonded, the two ‘O’s are no longer together. Instead of being connected, they’re now separate. Instead of being in a relationship, they are single, and this is why they cause so much damage.
They, quite simply, hate being single. They’ve always been in a relationship so they will do anything to be back in one again. Unfortunately, such is the strength of a free radical’s desire, it will happily covet its neighbour’s wife, so to speak. In more technical language, it will bond with any nearby atom. In doing so, that atom breaks its existing bonds.
This isn’t so great for the body, especially if the atom a free radical bonds with is in the cells that line our arteries or our immune system, or is a skin cell, a muscle cell or even a brain cell. Those cells can begin to fall apart.
The body has natural ways of dealing with free radicals though. It uses antioxidants. Antioxidants, which we get in many fruits and vegetables, salads, teas, cinnamon, dark chocolate, etc., simply provide a willing partner for the free radicals to bond with, thereby eliminating any further break-ups in the body. In effect, an antioxidant neutralises the damaging effect of a free radical. It’s ‘anti’ (against) oxidation. It’s one of the reasons doctors encourage us to eat those foods.
There’s a balance between the rate that free radicals are produced and the rate they are neutralised, but when free radicals are produced faster than the body is able to neutralise them, that’s when we get oxidation – or oxidative stress, as scientists prefer to call it – and that’s therefore when ageing speeds up.
Oxidation (oxidative stress) plays a big role in ageing. It’s also linked with cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, chronic fatigue, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease and a number of other serious conditions.
Now, here’s where things get rather interesting. There’s a very powerful natural antioxidant in the body that gets produced when we’re kind. It’s called ‘oxytocin’.
Kindness produces lots of oxytocin in the body. Whenever you do something kind, receive kindness, or even witness an act of kindness, you turn on an oxytocin tap in your body that delivers it to your arteries, your skin, your muscles, your brain, your immune system, essentially slowing ageing throughout the body at the cellular level.
Many women are familiar with oxytocin because it’s involved in childbirth and breastfeeding – but it also plays a major role in keeping our bodies young.
New research into ageing of the skin, for example, has found that oxytocin plays a crucial role in keeping oxidative stress at bay. When there’s not enough oxytocin, skin cells simply age faster. When there’s plenty of oxytocin around, skin ages more slowly.
It’s a similar story in the muscles. Muscles age when degeneration is faster than regeneration. To keep muscles young, we either need to slow down degeneration or speed up regeneration. Muscle degeneration can be caused by free radicals so kindness (oxytocin) slows it down. Muscles regenerate due to exercise. It’s why they get bigger or more toned when we work out. Now, new research shows that this regeneration needs oxytocin. When there’s plenty of oxytocin around, regeneration is faster.
It’s the same kind of story with the heart. Oxidative stress (free radicals) is one of the causes of cardiovascular disease. It’s why doctors encourage us to eat a diet rich in antioxidants. Studies show that oxytocin helps keep oxidative stress at bay in the cardiovascular system. It even reduces blood pressure. New studies also now show that oxytocin plays an important role in regeneration of heart muscle cells. All of this means that oxytocin is now regarded as a ‘cardioprotective’ hormone in that it is protective towards the cardiovascular system.
A similar picture was found in cells throughout the immune system. Oxidative stress in the immune system causes immunosenescence, a gradual weakening of the immune system seemingly due to ageing. Again, oxytocin significantly reduces oxidative stress in and around immune cells, making it immunoprotective too.
Think about what all this means! Kindness is one of the main ways to generate oxytocin in our bodies so, in effect, kindness produces antioxidant – antiaging – effects in our bodies.
So, to summarise: kindness creates antioxidant effects, kindness is cardioprotective, kindness is immunoprotective and kindness slows ageing. All of this is because kindness produces oxytocin.
(Discover the other side-effects of kindness in this video!)
It’s all about the feelings! Kindness creates warm feelings of connection and it’s these feelings that turn on the oxytocin tap that delivers the antioxidant, cardioprotective, immunoprotective and antiaging effects.
Just as feelings of stress, worry, anger or hostility speed up ageing (they do this by generating stress hormones in the body), so feelings of the opposite kind, the warm connection that we get through kindness, slow down ageing, and they do this by generating oxytocin.
And this is where it gets even more interesting. There’re no shortcuts. You can’t just be kind with the goal of slowing ageing. You can’t just be kind to achieve a goal of more toned skin or muscles. You have to mean it.
Your kindness must be honest and heartfelt, otherwise there’s no warm connection, and you need the warm connection to generate the oxytocin. We only get the results when we come from the heart, so to speak, when we’re not trying to get results, when we’re being kind because it’s the right thing to do. It’s a beautiful natural catch-22 of sorts.
The antiaging properties of oxytocin are moved into action through kindness. We generate oxytocin when we feel that heart connection in kindness, whether we give the kindness or whether we’re on the receiving end of it. We also generate it when we witness an act of kindness or moral beauty of some sort. This can be live or even when we watch a video shared over social media.
Kindness is a beautiful expression of the natural capacity to care that’s within all of us. I just find it kinda cool that it produces some healthy side effects too.
This article is a summary of a section of my book, The Five Side Effects of Kindness (Hay House, 2017). All references to research in this article can be found in the book.
Editor's Note: Pre-order David's book The Five Side Effects of Kindness at the link below by Feburary 6th to get an exlusive 45-minute video of his talk at I Can Do It! 2016 and be entered into a draw to win one of five places on David's I Heart Me School online course (worth $195/£159).