Talking To Your Neighbors May Save Your Life: Connections Between Community & Your Health

updated Jul 16, 2020
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(Image credit: Andrey Bayda)

I’ve done it, Carrie recently confessed to doing it, but now, a new study shows that avoiding your neighbors may actually be bad for your heart. Turns out, feeling socially connected to your community reduces the risk of a heart attack…a lot.

While it may seem like a no-brainer that having a safe and healthy neighborhood would help residents feel mentally healthy, it’s becoming more and more clear that emotional happiness leads to physical health, specifically heart health.

Psychologists at the University of Michigan just completed new research that tested how socially connected people felt and how healthy they were. Participants rated how strongly they agreed with statements like, “I really feel part of this area,” and “If I were in trouble, there are lots of people in this area who would help.” For the next four years, the researchers tracked their health.

As the leading cause of death for both men and women in the US, heart disease can be caused by many things like poor diet, lack of exercise and stress, and this new research shows that, at least among the 5,276 study participants, those who felt the most socially bonded with their community had a 67 percent reduced risk of heart attack. Pretty amazing.

The study controlled for other known factors of heart disease risk like age, race and marital status, but here’s the really interesting thing: they also controlled for what they called “dispositional factors” i.e. personality. For example, optimism was measured. Lead researcher and psychologist Eric Kim said, “We’re finding things like that increased optimism are associated with reduced risk of heart failure and stroke.” And the beauty of it is that how optimistic and connected you feel is up to you. There are no set standards in order to qualify for the health benefits because your own comfort and emotions are what guide your stress levels and health. Fantastic!

Even though there is always some conflicting information in the health arena (we recently told you about this study which says knowing your neighbors doesn’t actually make you happier) and acknowledging the fact that it’s probably no cure for a lifetime of bacon at breakfast, it seems getting connected with your community is never a bad idea for your health (and might be a great one).

→ Read more: Always Talk to Strangers by James Hamblin at The Atlantic.