Researchers in a University of Michigan study found that living in a tight-knit neighborhood lowered the risk of stroke among adults 50 and over. The study published online in Social Science & Medicine looked for stroke predictors as a way to make inroads on the estimated $25.2 billion in annual direct costs associated with stroke.This study looked at the positive social climate that impacts a neighborhoods health when neighbors view each other with a higher level of trust. Feeling connected builds what researchers term social cohesion. That connectedness was associated with a lower risk of stroke by up to 48 percent (about the same difference in strokes as that between a smoker and a non-smoker). Variations in neighborhoods are well documented. Over the years, several studies have indicated that neighborhoods negatively impact the physical or mental health of neighbors through environmental factors. Neighborhoods have been studied in relationship to violence, child development and childbearing practices but researchers in the last decade or so have begun to look at the positive health aspects associated with neighborhoods independent of individual-level attributes.
Studies such as this may have important policy implications. Investing in social capital such as making neighborhoods walker friendly, planning meeting places and constructing attractive green areas benefit the health of neighbors. Some studies seem to indicate that those factors are a distinctive form of social capitalism especially among women.
It isn’t necessary to wait until your town or county chooses to invest in a neighborhood to begin to take advantage of these studies. Certainly, at many points of your life, you were already aware of “good neighborhoods” and “bad neighborhoods.” If you already know that your neighborhood will impact your physical and mental well-being, it makes sense to choose to live in a neighborhood that provides the best of those opportunities. If you are already thinking about moving, make it a priority to find a neighborhood with a high level of trust between neighbors, significant amounts of green space and a high walkability score.
One place to begin is Walkscore.com. But you can also look for crime statistics by going to your city’s police department’s website and looking up a neighborhood.
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