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A Powerful Longevity Habit That Has Nothing to Do with Food

June 1, 2024

Living longer and enjoying good health as we age are two goals we all strive for. To get there, of course there are certain foods that can help, as well as habits like getting consistent exercise and quality sleep. But there’s another habit that we talk about less that can have a big impact on longevity and health span: Maintaining strong social connections.

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Experiencing loneliness occasionally is universal — but right now, 1 in 3 Americans reports feeling lonely every week, and 10% feel it every day. Chronic loneliness increases the risk of heart disease, disrupts sleep, and weakens the immune system, among other health issues. So it makes sense that cultivating social connections would have the opposite effect, and the science bears that out. 

“In the Jackson Heart Study, scientists have found that strong family and community ties — for example, through church involvement and neighborhood gatherings — help mitigate stress and decrease the risk of death and cardiovascular events (especially among women),” notes Dr. Mark Hyman, integrative physician and author of Young Forever, in a recent blog post

Dr. Hyman cites the “Roseto Effect”; this refers to a tight-knit community in Pennsylvania in the 1960s whose residents had half the incidence of heart attacks as those of a town 1 mile away, even though Roseto’s population didn’t eat a particularly healthy diet. Scientists attributed their good health to the reduced stress and emotional wellness that came from the meaningful relationships they enjoyed.

Related: 6 Healthy Habits Straight from the Blue Zones

People have enjoyed similar outcomes in the Blue Zones of Okinawa, Japan, and Sardinia, Italy, as well as Jackson, Mississippi, the site of the Jackson Heart Study, Dr. Hyman notes. 

You asked: What are three ways to build community?

Having a close community of friends and family is great if you’re born into and raised within it, but for many of us, that isn’t the case. So what can you do if you don’t have that community? 

  • Volunteer. “This automatically connects you to folks who care deeply about the same things you do,” Dr. Hyman says in the post. Love animals? Volunteer at a shelter. Have school-age kids? Sign up to help out at a school event. Work at a soup kitchen, stuff envelopes for a local advocacy organization — there are many ways to help. Or check out VolunteerMatch to get some inspo.
  • Join a group fitness class. This is a double-whammy, since you’re also exercising, another longevity habit. It can be as hard core as group cycling or boot camp, as laid back as a yoga class, or anything in-between, Dr. Hyman notes. Don’t be afraid to try a few things until you find your groove.
  • Pursue an interest. Take a photography or cooking class, join a book club, or participate in a community theater production (you can be part of the crew if being onstage isn’t your thing) — these are all great ways to meet new like-minded friends, along with being fulfilling activities on their own. 

Read next: These Habits Might Be Sabotaging Your Mood


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