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Show: March 22, 2003:

Produced by WFYI Public Media in Association with Indiana University School of Medicine

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Medical Mystery: What is "Helper's High"?

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Air date: March 22, 2003

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We've heard about "runner's high," a euphoria caused by the rush of endorphins after intense physical exercise. And many of us have experienced a "sugar rush" or "caffeine buzz." But there's another high you may NOT have heard of: "helper's high." This good feeling -- unlike the brief high supplied by caffeine and sugar -- is not followed by a low, and the euphoria lasts a week or more. What is a "helper's high"?

In their book, The Healing Power of Doing Good, Allan Luks and Peggy Payne talk about the "helper's high," a feeling of exhilaration and a burst of energy similar to that experienced after intense exercise, followed by a period of calmness and serenity.

For the book, Luks studied over 3,000 Americans involved in volunteer services to find that these do-gooders reported a helper's high that lasted several weeks and improved other aspects of their lives. They also report that the euporic sensation returned when they remembered the action of helping others.

The benefits of charity may not stop at improving sensations and emotions. 90% of the group Luks studied reported that volunteering acted as an antidote to stress, chronic pain, and even insomnia.

Another study found that members of volunteer organizations lived longer and experienced better health. The volunteers experienced noteworthy decreases in levels of blood pressure, stomach acid and cholesterol counts. Another, complementary study, this one at Harvard University, called this phenomenon the "Mother Teresa effect." Researchers showed 132 Harvard students a film about Mother Teresa's work among the Calcutta's poor, and then measured the level of immunoglobin A present in their saliva. The test revealed markedly increased levels of Immunoglobin A, which is the body's first defense against the common cold virus -- all after simply witnessing somebody else involved in charity work.

These studies show how important volunteer services are in boosting a sense of well-being, improving the body's immune system, and maintaining good health. Giving to others contributes a healthier psychological and physical life.

So go ahead, volunteer! Experience the "helper's high" while serving others and improving your health. (It may even be addictive!)

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