The benefits of giving back, compounded
In an inventive attempt at countering the increasing prevalence of heart disease, a new study in JAMA Pediatrics evaluates the impact of volunteering not on the recipients of good will, but on those donating their time. The authors believe this is the first time a study like this, which focuses on physical health effects of helping others, has been done.
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Led by Dr. Hannah Schreier, a postdoctoral fellow at Mount Sinai, researchers split up a group of high school sophomores from inner-city Vancouver, so that 52 students fulfilled their school-mandated volunteer hours in the fall, while the other half, as a control, waited for the spring.
They didn't ask very much of the volunteers: just one hour a week spent doing after-school activities, like arts and crafts or "homework club," with elementary school students.
Before and after the semester started, the researchers measured the students' risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including BMI, inflammation, and cholesterol levels. After just ten weeks of volunteering, the volunteers had measurably lower levels of each risk factor, compared to those in the control group.