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Volunteering May Boost Teen Heart Health

FRIDAY, March 1 (HealthDay News) -- Helping others is good for teens' hearts, a new study suggests.

Canadian researchers looked at 106 students at a Vancouver high school who either volunteered regularly for 10 weeks or remained on a wait-list for volunteering. The 10th graders in the volunteer group spent one hour per week working with elementary school children in after-school programs in their neighborhood.

The body fat, inflammation and cholesterol levels of all the students in the study were checked before and after the 10 weeks. The University of British Columbia researchers also assessed the students' self-esteem, mental health, mood and empathy.

At the end of the study period, the students in the volunteer group had lower body fat, cholesterol and inflammation levels than those in the wait-list group, according to the study, which was published Feb. 25 in the journal Pediatrics.

"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," study author Hannah Schreier said in a university news release.

She conducted the research during her doctoral studies at the university and is now a postdoctoral fellow at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. Although her research showed an association between volunteer work and improved heart health, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

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

Cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of death in North America. The first signs of the disease can begin to appear during the teen years.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians explains how teens can stay healthy.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of British Columbia, news release, Feb. 25, 2013

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