- Volunteers have healthier cardiovascular systems
- Heart health improves after 10 weeks' volunteering
- The most empathetic see the greatest health benefits
- Older volunteers are less likely to be depressed
By JENNY HOPE
Being a volunteer is good for the heart as well as the soul, claim researchers.
A new study shows even at a young age, people who volunteer have healthier cardiovascular systems that could stave off heart disease.
The study found improvements in several measurements of heart health among volunteers after just 10 weeks of taking part in community programmes.
Even at a young age, people who volunteer have healthier cardiovascular systems
Experts say the research adds to evidence that giving time and energy to help others not only makes people feel good, it has a positive effect on physical wellbeing.
Researcher Hannah Schreier, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, said: ‘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.’
Dr Schreier led the study looking at the effect of volunteering on adolescents’ physical health while working at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.
The study involved 106 teenagers from an urban, inner-city Vancouver high school who were split into two groups - a group that volunteered regularly for 10 weeks and a group that was wait-listed for volunteer activities.
Older people who volunteer to help others are less depressed, have a better quality of life and are happier with their lives as a result
The researchers measured the students’ body mass index (BMI), inflammation levels - which affect heart health - and cholesterol scores before and after the study.
They also assessed the students’ self-esteem, mental health, mood, and empathy, says a report published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics (must credit).
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.
Dr Schreier said: ‘It was encouraging to see how a social intervention to support members of the community also improved the health of adolescents.’
She said the first signs of heart disease can begin to appear during adolescence, and previous studies show that psychosocial factors, such as stress, depression and wellbeing, play a role in its development.
The study follows a survey last year by the UK charity WRVS which found being an older volunteer is good for your health.
Older people who volunteer to help others are less depressed, have a better quality of life and are happier with their lives as a result.
Those who take part in more volunteering activities, more frequently, boost happiness levels even further, with volunteers gaining improvements in depression levels, quality of life and life satisfaction over the following two years.
Source : http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2284301/Volunteering-reduces-risk-heart-disease-improves-physical-wellbeing.html