Helping Others Reduces Heart Disease Risk Factors
April 14, 2013 by Robert Wascher
Filed under A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race, Acts of Kindness, Altruism, Atherosclerosis, Behavior, Compassion, Empathy, Happiness, Heart Disease Risk, Hostility, Kindness, Overweight, Parents, Rewards, Risk of Death, Volunteering, Volunteerism, Weekly Health Update, adolescents, cardiovascular disease, cardiovascular disease risk, cholesterol, coronary artery disease, heart attack, heart disease, lifestyle, myocardial infarction, obesity, risk, teenagers, teens
A new clinical study reveals that performing acts of kindness can lower our personal risk of heart disease.
HELPING OTHERS REDUCES HEART DISEASE RISK FACTORS
Booker T. Washington once said, “Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others.” Certainly, most of us would agree that lending a helping hand benefits both the person in need and the person who has volunteered to help. Other than the satisfaction of knowing that you have made a positive difference in the life of another person, however, are there other potential benefits associated with altruistic behavior? Well, a newly published prospective randomized clinical research study suggests that volunteering to help others may actually improve the heart health of those who lend a helping hand to others in need. This study appears in the current issue of the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
A total of 106 tenth grade students agreed to participate in this prospective randomized clinical research study. The student volunteers were divided into two groups. The first group was assigned to volunteer to work with elementary school children on a weekly basis, while the other group (the “control” group) did not participate in any volunteer activities. At the beginning of this clinical study, measurements of the following cardiovascular disease risk factors were performed on all study participants: C-reactive protein level, interleukin 6 level, total cholesterol level, and body mass index. These same heart disease risk factors were measured again 4 months later.
The findings of this study were quite interesting. The results of testing at the beginning of this study revealed no significant differences in the measured cardiovascular disease risk factors between the two groups of study participants. However, 4 months later, significant differences in these established cardiovascular risk factors were observed between the two groups of high school students. Specifically, interleukin 6 levels, total cholesterol levels, and body mass index (a measure of weight versus height) were all significantly improved within the “volunteer group” when compared to the control group. While marginally significant, blood levels of the inflammatory C-reactive protein were also noted to be lower in the group of teens that had been randomized to work with elementary school children. Most interesting was the observation that the greatest decrease in these cardiovascular risk factors occurred, over time, among the teens in the volunteer group who also demonstrated the greatest increase in empathy and altruistic behaviors, and the largest decrease in negative mood, during the course of this study.
The findings of this very novel prospective randomized clinical study suggest that engaging in acts of empathy and altruism may directly lead to a reduction in several well known cardiovascular disease risk factors, although this study did not follow its very young volunteers long enough to determine whether or not the act of volunteering to help others actually reduced the incidence of cardiovascular disease. However, based upon this innovative study’s findings, it certainly appears that helping others is a definite win-win situation. The persons being helped obviously benefit from the acts of empathy and altruism bestowed upon them by others. At the same time, not only does it feel good to help others in need, but the person who voluntarily reaches out to another may very well reap, in turn, the benefit of improved health! (Another positive finding of this study is that this very positive phenomenon apparently works on teenagers!)
As I discuss in A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race, living an evidence-based cancer prevention lifestyle not only reduces your risk of dying from cancer, but also reduces your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease as well!
For a groundbreaking overview of cancer risks, and evidence-based strategies to reduce your risk of developing cancer, order your copy of my bestselling book, “A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race,” from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Vroman’s Bookstore, and other fine bookstores!
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Dr. Wascher is an oncologic surgeon, professor of surgery, cancer researcher, oncology consultant, and a widely published author
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