Research has shown that volunteering actually improves cardiovascular health. So turn off the TV this holiday season and lend a helping hand. Daisy Yuhas of Scientific American MIND explains how you can benefit from paying it forward.
Doing good for others warms the heart - and may protect the heart, too. Psychologists at the University of British Columbia asked 106 high school students to take part in a volunteering study. Half of the students spent an hour every week for 10 weeks helping elementary students with home work, sports, or club activities. The other half of the students did not participate in volunteer work.
Using questionnaires and a medical examination both before and after the 10-week period, the researchers found that students who volunteered had lower levels of cholesterol and in flammation after the study. Those who did not volunteer showed no such improvements.
The health benefits did not correlate to a specific volunteer activity - such as sedentary homework help versus athletics - nor did they link to improvements in self-esteem. But the researchers did find that students who reported the greatest increases in empathetic and altruistic behavior after their volunteering experience also exhibited the most pronounced improvements in heart health. Although more research is needed to untangle how health benefits and altruistic behavior are intertwined, psychologist and study author Hannah Schreier hypothesizes that their findings may reflect a "spillover" effect. "Keeping others motivated could improve your own motivation for healthy behaviors," Schreier says.
Reproduced with permission. Copyright ©2013 Scientific American, a division of Nature America, Inc. All rights reserved. By Daisy Yuhas, Scientific American MIND.
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