When it comes to heart health, most people associate it with having a healthy diet, exercising, limiting alcohol, and reducing stress.

But what if I told you that there’s a way to improve your heart health that goes beyond all of that?

Having a community of people that you can associate yourself with, trust, and seek support from is a huge piece of the puzzle when it comes to heart health. Unfortunately, it is also something that is often neglected.

Before we get into the details of how community can be healthy for your heart, let’s first talk about why having a healthy heart is important in the first place.

 

The Importance of a Healthy Heart

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both women and men. In fact, one in four deaths are related to heart disease.

High blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, and smoking are key risk factors for heart disease, and 47% of Americans have at least one of these risk factors (1).

Improving eating habits, increasing physical activity, quitting smoking, and reducing alcohol intake are all pieces of the puzzle that may help improve heart health.

Studies have also found that having a sense of community is part of that as well.

 

The Roseto Effect

A study published in the Journal of American Medical Association examined Italian immigrants in a small town called Roseto, Pennsylvania (2).

The study was developed because the town doctor was surprised how few heart disease problems he saw in community members of the town.

The researchers compared health statistics of the people in Roseto to other local towns for seven years, and what they discovered was shocking.


Results:

 

- No one in Roseto under the age of 47 had died of a heart attack, and there were not any men under the age of 55 that were diagnosed with heart disease.

- The rate of heart attacks for men in Roseto over the age of 65 was half the rate of the national average.

- The death rates for Roseto community members was 35% lower than anywhere else in the world.

        These surprising results made the researchers dig deeper into what the Roseto community was doing to have such positive results, and they called it “The Roseto Effect” (3).


        What Was So Different About the Roseto Community?

        Since diet is a major contributor for a healthy heart, the researchers examined the diet of the Roseto community and found that their diet wasn’t great. In fact, they were eating a lot of fried foods.

        They also examined their lifestyle and discovered that many individuals worked in quarries or mines, leading them to be exposed to many toxins. They then would spend their leisure time enjoying cigars and wine.

        The researchers then looked further and noticed a very close-knit social community among family and friends. In particular, elders were nurtured by the community instead of neglected.

        The researchers concluded that a sense of community among individuals living in Roseto was the main contributor to the lack of heart problems in the town.

        In other words, having a community can help support a healthy and happy heart (4).

         

        Benefits of Having a Community

        Although the Roseto Effect study was done in the 1960’s, the benefits of community still hold true.

        Unfortunately, social commitments and ties are often neglected and thought of as just another thing to add to our “to-do” list.

        Although research has found a lot of benefit to belonging to a community including: (5, 6).

        - A decreased risk for depression or anxiety
        - An increased sense of purpose and connection
        - Improved self-confidence and self-worth
        - Better coping mechanisms and support during stressful times

         

        Even though being part of a community takes some work, there are many benefits that it can provide.

         

        How to Attract Your Community

        So how can you build a community in your own life?

        Below are some ways: 

        • Seek support in a local church: finding a local church that aligns with your beliefs is the strongest community you can find. Also, many churches have programs you can get involved with to reach out to others in your area.
        • Get involved in community events: sign up to volunteer at a local food pantry, take a dance class, or sign up for an art class at a local art studio.
        • Research groups in your area: Interested in learning how to crochet?  Want to improve your photography skills? Check out groups at your local library or look up groups that interest you on Meetup.com.
        • Start your own group: Build your own community by starting your own group such as a book club or dinner club.

        In addition, attracting a community can sometimes mean getting out of your comfort zone and trying new things.

        It’s also important to ditch any judgement you may have and focus on building connection that goes beyond a person’s skin color, gender, or age.


        Conclusion

        Diet and lifestyle can have a large impact on heart health, but don’t forget a sense of community as well.

        The more you surround yourself with people that can support, inspire, and connect with you, the healthier your heart will be.

         

         

        Autumn Enloe, MS, RD, LD, CLT
        Autumn Enloe is a registered dietitian in Minnesota. She has a private practice where she focuses on helping women take care of themselves through proper nutrition, supplement and lifestyle adjustments. She provides remote nutrition coaching and frequently posts free nutrition content and recipes at her website: www.autumnenloe.comIn her free time she enjoys chasing around her toddler, laughing with her husband, creating recipes in the kitchen, and practicing yoga.