Why volunteering is good for the heart

In a society that tends to focus so much on ‘me’, I struggle at times to teach my children the importance of hard work, being grateful and giving back.  Don’t get me wrong, they are polite, mind their manners (most of the time) and are appreciative.  In school they are encouraged and in some instances, mandated to participate in service.  I don’t know if they understand the importance of the lesson or just feel that it is another ‘assignment’ they have to do.

I was intrigued when I came across the study by Schreier et al that reflects on the health benefits of teenagers and volunteering.

The researchers in Canada looked at the effects of volunteering on adolescents over a 2 month period compared to controls.  10th graders were split into two groups and were required to work at 5 neighboring elementary schools for 10 weeks in afterschool programs that included helping with homework and clubs that focused on various sports, science, cooking, games and crafts.  The students were expected to volunteer for 1-1.5 hours/week after they obtained a 2 hour training session.  Adult mentors oversaw the program.

At the end of the 2 month period, biological markers of inflammation and cholesterol levels (statistically significant) improved in the volunteer group compared to controls.  Higher altruism scores after volunteering correlated with lower cholesterol. Volunteering also improved mood and self-esteem, this correlates with decreases in cardiovascular risk factors over time.

The idea of kids helping other kids and introducing children to being involved in charitable causes and volunteer work sets them on the course of helping others throughout their lives. This study states volunteering is like winning the ‘trifecta’.  “It benefits volunteer recipients, it’s beneficial to society, and now we document that volunteering can also reduce cardiovascular risk in volunteers themselves,” the researchers wrote.

In the past several years, as a family we have been more involved in charity.  The kids have learned that life isn’t always designer clothing, shelter, and a warm meal for everyone. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It is one of the beautiful compensations of life, that no man can sincerely help another without helping himself.”  I inevitably feel that I get more out of an experience than I actually give when I volunteer. In the process I may be doing my ‘heart’ some good.

I leave you with some of my favorite quotes:

  • Volunteers are not paid — not because they are worthless, but because they are PRICELESS -Unknown
  • The highest reward for a person’s work is not what they get for it, but what they become because of it. – John Ruskin
  • What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal. – Albert Pike
  • Nobody can do everything, but everyone can do something. -Gil Scott-Heron
  • Don’t ever question the value of volunteers. Noah’s Ark was built by volunteers; the Titanic was built by professionals. – Unknown

 

Schreier HMC, et al “Effect of Volunteering on Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease in Adolescents: A Randomized Controlled Trial” JAMA Pediatr 2013;167(4):327-332.

By: Patricia Abboud, MD – “Dr. Mom Squad”

Dr. Abboud is a pediatric intensivist at Dayton Children’s and the mother of three kids. As part of the “Dr. Mom Sqaud,” Dr. Abboud blogs about her experiences as both as doctor and a mom and hopes to share insight to other parents on issues related to both parenting and kids health. Learn more about Dr. Abboud!

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