volunteering reduces cardiovascular riskSomehow, when our parents told us that it’s better to give than to receive, we never really believed them. But according to a new study, they may have been telling the truth. The study, which tracked more than 100 Canadian 10th graders, found that those who did weekly volunteer work had lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease later in life than those who didn’t volunteer. Those risk factors included BMI (body mass index) and cholesterol levels, which researchers measured before and after the study.

Half of the kids were randomly assigned to do an hour of volunteer work with younger students in after-school programs at a neighborhood elementary school. After 10 weeks, the researchers found that the volunteers had lower levels of inflammation and cholesterol and lower BMI than the control group (that didn’t do any volunteering). “It was encouraging to see how a social intervention to support members of the community also improved the health of adolescents,” said lead researcher Hannah Schreier, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.

The researchers also measured the participants overall happiness and according to Dr. Schreier, “The volunteers who reported the greatest increases in empathy, altruistic behaviour and mental health were the ones who also saw the greatest improvements in their cardiovascular health.”

Schreier’s results are in line with previous research that has found that volunteering is good for overall health. In one study, preteens who performed acts of kindness were rated happier than their less kind peers. And a study by a charity in the UK found that older people who volunteer are less depressed, have a better quality of life and are happier with their lives as a result. Volunteers also saw a reduction in depression and a perceived increase in their quality of life.

Schrier’s study was published online in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. You can read an abstract here.