Volunteering can give you a healthy heart
University of British Columbia researchers wanted to find out how volunteering might impact physical health among adolescents.
“It was encouraging to see how a social intervention to support members of the community also improved the health of adolescents,” said Hannah Schreier, who conducted this research during her doctoral studies at UBC, in a statement.
Researchers split 106 Grade 10 students from an urban, inner-city Vancouver high school into two groups - a group that volunteered regularly for 10 weeks and a group that was wait-listed for volunteer activities.
The researchers measured the students’ body mass index (BMI), inflammation and cholesterol levels before and after the study. They also assessed the students’ self-esteem, mental health, mood, and empathy.
The volunteer group of students spent one hour per week working with elementary school children in after-school programs in their neighbourhood.
After 10 weeks they had lower levels of inflammation and cholesterol and lower BMIs than the students who were wait-listed.
“The volunteers who reported the greatest increases in empathy, altruistic behaviour and mental health were the ones who also saw the greatest improvements in their cardiovascular health,” said Schreier, now a postdoctoral fellow at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. The study was published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.