Live Well Polk

Editor’s note: this column provided by Polk Medical Center is meant for informational purposes only.

February is heart month and all around us are valid messages about how to take care of the ol’ ticker, including some in this very space. Students at Polk County Schools are taking a different approach, using a unique method to strengthen their own hearts and warm those of others.

The students set out at the beginning of the month to perform as many acts of kindness as possible. At the end of the month, the homeroom in every grade level at each of the district’s 10 schools that performs the highest number of good deeds will be treated to a celebration by Polk Medical Center.

Taking the time to do something nice for someone offers a dual benefit. Obviously, the person who just had their coffee paid for or had their groceries carried to their car will be very grateful. But, the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation has found that there are also perks for the giver of the gift:

  • Kindness increases oxytocin, also known as the love hormone. Oxytocin aids in lowering blood pressure and increasing self-esteem.
  • Kindness increases energy. A study conducted by the University of California at Berkley found that participants who helped others often felt calmer, more energetic and less depressed.
  • Kindness makes you happy. A Harvard Business School survey of 136 countries found that people who give of themselves are happiest overall.
  • Kindness decreases pain. Engaging in acts of kindness produces endorphins — the brain’s natural painkiller.
  • Kindness may slow down aging. People who are regularly kind have 23 percent less cortisol (known as the stress hormone) and age slower than average.
  • Kindness is contagious. The positive effects of kindness are actually experienced in the brain of everyone who witnesses the act, improving their mood and making them significantly more likely to “pay it forward.” This means that one good deed is likely to set off a chain reaction and improve the day of countless others.

The good thing is that being kind is not even as hard as you might think and doesn’t cost you much more than a little bit of time and, maybe a little bit of elbow grease.

Here are five things you might even be able to do today that will brighten someone’s day:

  • Help someone load or unload their groceries.
  • Let someone go in front of you in line or in traffic.
  • Leave change in a vending machine for the next person.
  • Return a shopping cart for someone.
  • Smile at 10 strangers.

So, it seems the students of Polk County are on to something and you may already be seeing the difference in those around you. Less than two weeks into the month, students in just the elementary school have already performed close to 12,000 acts of kindness. That may explain why you are seeing more smiles as you walk down Main Street.