Volunteering can give you a healthy heart

Helping others through volunteering can boost your cardiovascular health, even at a young age, according to a new study.

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.

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