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Volunteering Can Help Reduce Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Adolescents, Study Says

By guest blogger Gina Cairney

Youth can experience a multitude of benefits, including meeting new people and gaining leadership skills, and even a boost to their mental health and self confidence. But whether it's for polishing up a college resume or because mom said to do it, volunteering also has a positive effect on physical health, possibly reducing cardiovascular risks in adolescents, a new study published online in JAMA Pediatrics found.

Researchers recruited 106 10th grade students from five classes at a large, urban public high school in western Canada during the 2011-12 school year. The students were fluent in English, and free from chronic illness.

The participants in the intervention group (determined by a coin flip), were assigned to volunteer at one of five public elementary schools in an after-school program for an hour to 90 minutes per week, for 10 weeks throughout the school year.

The after-school programs included activities like homework club, sports, arts and crafts, and science.

To better understand whether volunteering had an effect on cardiovascular health, researchers looked at predictors for the disease and predicted that teenagers who participated in a volunteer program would show lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), interleukin 6 (IL-6), and total cholesterol, as well as lower body mass index, compared with teenagers who were in the control group.

Researchers found that those students who participated in the volunteer group showed significantly lower levels of IL-6 after the program, as well as lower cholesterol levels and lower body mass index. CRP decreased as well, but not as significantly as the other indicators.

The findings are significant, according to the study, because they suggest that volunteering not only helps others, but also benefits the young volunteers themselves. The authors also suggest that there is, perhaps, a "novel way" to improve health while making positive contributions to society.

Seems like a win-win situation for all involved.

While I'm sure schools with after-school programs would appreciate any student volunteers to help with mentoring younger students, school-related programs aren't the only volunteer opportunities available.

For those who may not find excitement in proofing an English paper or teaching fractions to younger school mates, organizations like the Humane Society or the Sierra Club are always in need of volunteers and can provide opportunities to gain valuable knowledge and experience.

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