Good neighborhoods may be good for your heart

Mr. Rogers was on to something with his friendly neighborhood. A new study published in Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health concludes that caring, tight-knit neighborhoods can help reduce the chances of its residents suffering heart attacks.

Positive neighborhood qualities, such as inclusiveness, were linked to improved mental and physical health. Neighbors who look out for each other ensure a sense of trust and security, which, according to the researchers from the University of Michigan, lowered heart attack risk.

The researchers looked at roughly 5,000 adults in the U.S.  over four years who were part of the national Health and Retirement Study. Participants were heart-healthy and an average age of 70. Two-thirds were married women.

Participants answered a series of questions about their neighborhood on a seven-point scale. Questions included how involved they felt with their neighborhood, how much they trusted their neighbors and how friendly neighbors were.

During the four-year period, 148 participants had a heart attack. Researchers determined that participants who ranked their neighborhoods high on the scale were 17 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack. Each point higher on the scale was linked to a 22 percent heart attack reduction risk.

After adjusting the outcomes for other factors, such as age, race and gender, the results remained consistent. However, the study was observational and did not account for family history of cardiovascular disease. Also, the follow-up period was not long and the range of ethnic groups that participated was limited.

The researchers acknowleged that more in-depth research is needed to better understand any association between friendly neighborhoods and heart health.

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