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Study Finds Welcoming Community Promotes Heart Health

New research has proved that home is where the heart is - well, healthiest. New research has proved that home is where the heart is the healthiest. A University of Michigan study,published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, hoped to examine different neighborhoods and see how positivity affects heart health. What they discovered was pretty interesting.

Examining past research
Prior research focused on literal characteristics in a neighborhood that could take a toll on the heart, such as the prevalence of fast food restaurants or criminal activity. However, the U-M researchers discovered that behavioral characteristics also affected heart health. Neighborhoods that boasted close-knit communities, especially senior communities, and residents who were in good physical and mental health had better cardiovascular health and a lower risk for heart attacks.

Approximately 5,000 people with an average age of 70 participated in the survey between 2006 and 2010. The survey queried participants on how much they felt part of the neighborhood, what their trust levels were, and how helpful and friendly they found their neighbors. During those four years, 148 participants endured heart attacks. Those participants living in socially cohesive neighborhoods lowered their risk of a heart attack by 17 percent. The researchers believe their findings suggest that welcoming communities serve as a support group that residents can look to other than family or friends.

"This additional type of neighborhood-level social support may create and reinforce neighborhood norms," the researchers said in a statement. "These norms may then impact the behavior of neighborhood residents by creating a system of incentives for adopting and maintaining certain behaviors." 

The results demonstrated that there are beneficial effects of social cohesion, which the study authors defined as, "the perceived degree of connectedness between and among neighbors and their willingness to intervene for the common good." This perception helps promote feelings of security and trust within a neighborhood, which can be incredibly favorable for residents, especially those in retirement communities.

Looking forward
Though this is good news, a few factors may dispute the findings. The study was observational and did not consider any genetic factors or history of heart attacks. The follow-up period was also shorter than most. The study authors hope that future researchers will continue to examine the correlation and investigate different factors. They believe that overall the findings can promote better communities down the road.

Cardiovascular conditions are extremely prevalent among older adults. The American Heart Association stated that 83.6 million Americans have a heart condition. Of that group, 42.2 million are 60 years or older. 

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