You can choose your friends, but few are fortunate enough to choose their neighbors. There are good neighbors and not so good neighbors, which can shape how a person feels about his or her community. Interestingly, new research published online August 18, 2014 in the British Medical Journal suggests how we feel about our neighbors may impact our risk for cardiovascular disease.
The Bible contains the account of a scribe who posed the question to Jesus Christ “Which is the first commandment?” Christ’s answer was to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.” Then He followed this answer with “And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Mark 12:28-31)
Imagine the changes the world would experience in crime rates, war, bullying, poverty, and much more if everyone followed this counsel to love their neighbors.
Previous research has investigated the effects communities have on the health of individuals living within that community, including access to fast food outlets, violent crime rates, environmental pollution and upkeep of buildings in the area. The current study goes a step further and examines the connection between neighborhood cohesion and cardiovascular health.
The study authors analyzed the cardiovascular health data of over 5,000 U.S. adults from the Health and Retirement Study, starting in 2006. This study is a nationally representative study of American adults that has been tracking the challenges and opportunities of aging since 1992 by surveying study participants every two years.
Beginning in 2006, study participants were asked to rate—on a seven point scale—how they felt about their neighborhood, whether they felt their neighbors would help them during a time of need, how much they trusted their neighbors, and if they felt their neighbors were friendly.
After adjusting for individual-level social support, sociodemographic, behavioral, biological, and psychological factors, the study authors observed that for every one point increase in participants’ rating of the social cohesion in their neighborhood a 17 percent reduction in heart attack risk was realized.
These findings confirm a previous study published in the May 2011 edition of Stroke, which found that neighborhood social cohesion was associated with a 53 percent reduction in stroke mortality risk for every one point increase in perceived cohesiveness. While the study is only observational in nature, it does suggest that a strong social support network, including good neighbors, may be beneficial for your health.