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Can exercising your 'compassion muscle' add years to your life?

Health and wellness specialist Tom DeLoughry is leading several workshops on dealing with stress, improving health and helping caregivers. Below is a piece he wrote about giving of your time and talents; specific information on the workshops follows.

 By Tom DeLoughry

Could a couple of hours each week exercising your “compassion muscle” be as important for wellness as a couple of hours of aerobic exercise?

A review of recent research on the “Health Benefit of Volunteering,” published by the Corporation for National and Community Service, suggests that the answer is “yes.” It shows that, when we give to others, we’re likely to receive more happiness and better health.

But the benefits of helping don’t seem to kick in until people spend at least two hours a week helping others. Those more active volunteers showed improvements in mental health and activities of daily living plus decreased mortality rates, when compared to less active volunteers.

The studies also show that giving seems more important than getting. For example, in one setting, hundreds of people were randomly assigned to either get massages or to give massages. Who do you think had the biggest reduction in stress? Those who gave massages!

Compassion is the act of noticing that someone needs help, and then doing something about it – whether it’s a kind thought or a kind action.

Like it or not, all of us humans are connected. Your physical “me” only experiences pleasure and pain inside your body. But doesn’t your emotional “me” stretch to include joy and suffering outside of you? For example, don’t “you” feel bad when your family or friends suffer? Or get upset when you see disaster victims suffering on TV? They’re outside your body, but somehow, they get under your skin.

At Hearts and Hands, a nonprofit organization where neighbors help neighbors, volunteers let someone get under their skin over 5,000 times last year. And everyone seems to like it. Mary Ellen, from Alden, said, “I volunteer to give back to my community, and offer my time now that I am retired. There’s also an important social aspect as you age, because volunteering for a worthwhile cause helps to increase your social circle again.”

Living Well, an interfaith and community collaborative, is encouraging Western New Yorkers to “exercise their compassion muscle” by working with Hearts and Hands plus Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith communities.  The initiative is led by a partnership between the upstate New York conference of the United Methodist and the Lutheran churches. For more information, visit or or

Learn to help yourself and others address issues stress, aging, caregiving, bullying, end-of-life, abuse and hospitalizations and other issues during a free upcoming eight-session program that will equip you to provide emotional and spiritual support. Coaches can help friends, families or organizations that provide medical, emotional or spiritual care.

Part one of “Help Yourself” meets for three sessions beginning at 7 p.m. Oct. 30 at Christ United Methodist Church, 350 Saratoga Road in Amherst. Part two of the training resumes after a holiday and winter break on March 5. Call 839-2460 or visit to register.

Other workshops include:

Caring for the Caregivers - A half-day conference to reduce caregiver stress, learn about respected resources and create a plan to meet physical, emotional, social and/or spiritual needs.

The first runs from 9:30 a.m. to noon Nov. 1, Kenmore United Methodist Church, 32 Landers Road, Kenmore.

The second from noon to 3:30 p.m. Nov. 15, Amherst Center for Senior Services, 370 John James Audubon Parkway, Amherst.

Success with Stress at Work, School and Home – A two-hour weekend workshop for working parents, teens, seniors and professionals.

Williamsville workshop runs 9 to 11 a.m. Nov. 9, Congregation Shir Shalom, 4660 Sheridan Drive.

The workshops are sponsored by Living Well, as well the Civic Engagement Institute at Niagara University, in association with the Amherst Center for Senior Services and Hearts and Hands.

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