There are many good reasons to be a fantastic neighbor, not the least of which is that fantastic neighbors are fantastic. Not coincidentally, Bernal Heights is famous for being fantastic, in no small part because Bernal Heights has a long tradition of highly engaged neighborliness.
That’s great for Bernal Heights, of course. But it may also be good for you. A new study suggests that people who feel more connected to their neighbors are less likely to experience a heart attack.
Writing for The Atlantic, James Hamblin explains:
According to new research published today from psychologists at the University of Michigan, I’m less likely to die of a heart attack than I would be if I gave in to my more introverted tendencies.
Social connection at the neighborhood level has long been known to be associated with good mental health, and some aspects of physical health. But this is the first study to look specifically at neighborhood social cohesion and heart attacks, which hit more than 700,000 Americans every year and cost everyone billions of dollars.
“There’s evidence suggesting that negative factors of the neighborhood, things like density of fast food outlets, violence, noise, and poor air quality impact health,” lead researcher Eric Kim, a psychologist in his final year of doctoral work at the University of Michigan, told me. I’d add broken windows. One 2003 study found that “boarded-up housing” predicts high rates of gonorrhea in a neighborhood, as well as premature death due to cancer or complications of diabetes. (And murder.) More recently, researchers from University of Pennsylvania looked at the health detriments associated with vacant land. By their understanding, abandoned buildings lead to isolation and erosion of social relationships, mutual trust, and collective efficacy, which leads to poor physical health.
Kim’s team is focusing on the other side of things: the positive elements of a neighborhood that “might perhaps be protective or even enhancing of health.” For a young scientist, Kim is precociously well versed in the language of hedging.
The study du jour, published in Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, is based on assessments of social connectedness in 5276 adults in urban, suburban, and rural areas. The subjects rated how strongly they agreed with the following four prompts:
- “I really feel part of this area.”
- “If [I] were in trouble, there are lots of people in this area who would help.”
- “Most people in this area can be trusted.”
- “Most people in this area are friendly.”
The responses landed the participants on a seven-point Likert scale. And then they were followed. Four years later, 148 of them had experienced heart attacks.
“On the seven-point scale,” Kim explained, “each unit of increase in neighborhood social cohesion was associated with a 17 percent reduced risk of heart attacks.”
“If you compare the people who had the most versus the least neighborhood social cohesion,” Kim continued, “they had a 67 percent reduced risk of heart attacks.”
Citizens of Bernalwood, you now know know what to do. Sally forth, be fantastic, be neighborly, and live longer.
PHOTO: Fantastic Elise Street neighbors in 2011 demonstrating how to reduce the risk of heart attack. Photo by Adrian Mendoza