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Kindness Really is Good for the Heart: Volunteering Helps Lower Cholesterol in Teens

Update Date: Feb 25, 2013 05:15 PM EST

Helping others is truly good for the heart, according to a new study.

Researchers found that even at a young age, doing good and volunteering can help teenagers enjoy healthier hearts.

In the latest study, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, researchers at the University of British Columbia wanted to see how volunteering affects physical health among adolescents.

The study involved 106 10th grade students from an urban, inner city Vancouver high school.  The students were divided into two groups: one group that volunteered regularly for 10 weeks and other group that was wait-listed for volunteer activities.  Researchers measured the students' body mass index (BMI), inflammation and cholesterol levels before and after the study.  The study also analyzed the students' self-esteem, mental health, mood and empathy.

Researchers explained that the volunteer group spent an hour a week working with younger elementary school children in after-school programs in their neighborhood.

Researchers found that after 10 week, participants in the volunteer group had lower levels of inflammation cholesterol and BMIs compared to students who were waitlisted.

"The volunteers who reported the greatest increases in empathy, altruistic behavior and mental health were the ones who also saw the greatest improvements in their cardiovascular health," researcher Hannah Schreier said in a statement.

"It was encouraging to see how a social intervention to support members of the community also improved the health of adolescents," she added.

Researchers say the latest study is important because heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in Canada and in the United States, and the first signs of cardiovascular problems can begin to appear in adolescence. 

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