Author Archives: Madeline Cole '16

The Health Benefits of Volunteering

Is volunteering a form of self-care? Researchers Eric Kim and Sara Konrath featured in a recent article published by The Atlantic think so. Konrath even believes that, in addition to their suggestions of healthy eating and exercising, doctors “should tell people about the health benefits of social activities, including volunteering.”

Their evidence? The researchers’ joint study of 7168 Americans older than 50 suggests that those study participants who choose to regularly participate in volunteer work were more likely to receive “flu shots, mammograms, Pap smears, cholesterol tests, and prostate exams. Most importantly, volunteering was associated with 38 percent fewer nights spent in the hospital.” In other words, as Konrath put it, “What this shows is that volunteers make decisions about their health that are different from non-volunteers…One way to think about this is that when we care for ourselves, in a fundamental way, it allows us to care for others.”

The connection between self-care and care directed outwardly is undeniable based on the research of Kim and Konrath. To hear more about the fascinating findings of their studies, check out the article “The Physical Power of Altruism” using the following link:

Luckily, here at Bowdoin we’re surrounded by opportunities to volunteer. Bowdoin’s emphasis on its historical connection to and tradition of supporting the common good is embodied in institutions such as the McKeen Center, where students can find ways to connect with Brunswick and its surrounding communities and the world beyond. So, sign up for an Alternative Spring Break. Take advantage of Common Good Day. And always keep your eyes open for new opportunities to cultivate or support your passion for volunteering, knowing the intrinsically gratifying experience could come with all sorts of health advantages!

Staying Motivated

When the clock strikes midnight, when the closing bell goes off at H-L, when your eyes turn bleary, what motivates you to finish those seemingly unending stacks of homework? A shot of espresso? A cafe cookie? A brisk walk in the Bowdoin fall-winter air?

The Atlantic reports that researchers have found a way to reinvigorate and renew motivation. Behavioral economists have long told us that it is a “sense of progress” that keeps adults motivated in their working lives. Taking the science one step further, however, researchers at Duke University demonstrated this effect using Legos. By offering students an opportunity to build a Lego Bionicle for $3, decreasing the cost to build each successive Bionicle until the subjects had had enough. In a second iteration of the experiment, the students were presented with the same offer, but had to watch each Bionicle they’d created be deconstructed, brick by tiny lego brick, before being offered to build another one. Naturally, the subjects in the first run of the experiment showed vastly more interest in building more Bionicles. Even with something utterly distinct from their own happiness and well-being [the construction of a miniature, plastic, robot-doll], the sense of progress the subjects experienced by accumulating constructed Bionicles compelled them to build more.

And it’s pretty easy to imagine this result holding true outside of the playroom, or science laboratory, as the case may be. Seeing the fruits of our labor stack up, whether it’s pages of printed paper or repetitions of a study, is highly satisfying. It proves to us that our mental strain means something, creates something, and often, this knowledge is enough to keep us going.

The truth is, motivation is personal – we all find different ways to keep ourselves going when the going gets tough. But understanding the premise demonstrated by the Lego experiment – that progress creates progress – is a notion guaranteed to keep your fingers pattering away on the keyboard when you’ve still got three pages to go.

To find out more, check out this awesome Atlantic article:


The Shared Experience of Health

Living together as a community on Bowdoin’s campus, we all play a role in fostering the general well-being of the people around us – our fellow students, faculty, staff, and even visitors to the College. Having lived (at the very least) for a few months in our little microcosm may have left us with some sense of this interconnectivity. The ways and the extent to which we influence the health of our peers may sometimes be obvious, and sometimes a little more tricky to discern.

Check out this awesome article from the Atlantic that discusses the conception of health as “a shared experience.” Studies are showing that the rigid expectations of health individualism that have been ingrained in us since the first day we were allowed to have a physical without our parent or guardian in the room may not be the most productive way to frame health care. This is because certain health issues – think: smoking cessation, alcohol use, medication regimens, physical activity – are often experienced in communal settings. That is, the aforementioned health issues can affect or be affected by more than just the individual patient. This means that in terms of health care, there is a difference between treating a broken ankle and a tobacco addiction. For the latter, the community can be a helpful way to enhance care, improve accountability, support management of health conditions, and more.

As members of such a small and tightknit community, we all have a part to play in making sure each person on our campus can be as healthy as possible, even if that role isn’t always apparent. Click on the link to the article below if you’d like to find out more about what the “shared experience of health” can look like!

Mindfulness Matters!

What does it mean to be mindful? Practicing yoga? Taking long walks in the woods? Definitions of mindfulness vary, but its positive effects on attitude, attention and general mental health are pretty constant. The term was developed in the 1970s by the biologist Jon Kabat-Zinn, but the act it describes, that is, “paying attention on purpose” has been around for millennia, adapted in large part from Buddhist meditation traditions. Mindfulness is a way of thinking more carefully and concertedly about the routine activities of daily life, thereby maintaining mental presence in the moment.

Is practicing mindfulness already part of your daily routine? Studies show that you’re likely better for it. The Atlantic asserts that being mindful “improves attention, reduces stress, and results in better emotional regulation and an improved capacity for compassion and empathy,” and evidence is growing in favor of the positive effects of this conceptually simple practice. It’s worth noting, however, that mindfulness, as simple as it may seem, is usually not a default state of mind. It takes most a little training to be able to capitalize on the various benefits of being mindful. Check out the article below to read about the ways mindfulness training is being incorporated into classrooms, and for ideas on how to bring mindful practices into your life here at Bowdoin!