Teens who volunteered reduced their heart disease risk, study says

High school students who volunteered showed significantly lower markers for cardiovascular disease risk, according to a new study.
(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

People who volunteer are often known to say they get more out of the experience than those who are being helped. A study in Canada concurs that that may be true: Researchers say that high school students who volunteered improved their own health.

The researchers recruited and assessed 106 10th graders from western Canada. Half were assigned to volunteer weekly with elementary school children for two months. At the end of that time, the high school students showed significantly lower markers for cardiovascular disease risk, including body mass index and cholesterol levels when compared with students in a control group.

An interesting effect the researchers reported was that the teenagers who increased the most in empathy and altruistic behaviors, and who decreased the most in negative mood, also showed the greatest decrease in their cardiovascular disease risk.

The study was done by researchers at several schools, including Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, and published online Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. Pediatrics.

Underlying the study was the idea that social factors play a central role in adolescent health. Interventions usually focus on risky behaviors rather than positive ones. And although volunteering has been shown to have positive health benefits, it was not known whether randomly assigning teens to help younger children would be helpful to the teens.


“If we can engage adolescents in volunteering by making it a standard recommendation akin to physical activity or by incorporating it as a regular part of school curricula, we have the potential of reducing cardiovascular risk markers in these adolescents,” the researchers wrote.

A study published last year showed that preteens who performed acts of kindness were happier than their peers. Maybe good works are a key to success.

@mmacvean on Twitter