Doing good feels good. And “[doing] the neighborly thing on a regular basis and, studies suggest, you may live longer. There’s only one caveat: “You have to genuinely care,” says Stephanie Brown, Ph.D., associate professor of preventive medicine at Stony Brook University in New York.” Understand some of the science related to doing good in today’s excerpt.

“We consistently find that volunteering and helping behavior is associated with a reduced risk of mortality,” says Brown. “We see this over and over again in prospective studies that control for other variables, such as baseline health and gender.”

For example, a study in Detroit looked at 423 married couples over age 65. They were asked if they helped anyone other than each other in the previous year with transportation, errands, shopping, housework, childcare or other tasks. Those who did were about half as likely to die over the next five years than those who didn’t. “Now,” says Brown, “we need to find out why and how.”

She and fellow researchers have already uncovered a few clues. To help someone you don’t know, you have to overcome the natural impulse to avoid risk. Every time you help a stranger, you are reaching out a little, and that can make you feel vulnerable. The theory is that to overcome those fears, your body releases a hormone called oxytocin, which helps you buffer stress while increasing social trust and tranquility.

This “compassion hormone,” it turns out, is very good for your body. “You are limiting exposure to stress hormones like cortisol,” says Brown. “That may be one reason why helping behavior is related to longevity.”

Source: “19 Healthy Reasons To Help Others.” By 19 Healthy Reasons To Help Others.