Family bonds and strong social connections are astonishingly strong determinants of both a long and happy life.
The evidence lies in the quiet town of Roseto, Pennsylvania, a community of about 1600 people originally settled in the late 1800’s by immigrants from a province of Foggia, Italy.
Back in the 1950’s, researchers were perplexed about the extraordinarily low rate of heart attacks among the citizens of Roseto. In fact, the likelihood of having a heart attack in Roseto was as low as 1/4 to 1/2 that of any of the adjacent towns. An odd finding, since the diet, water, and medical care were similar in the entire region. So what accounted for the remarkably healthy hearts in Roseto?
The investigation zeroed in on a particularly unique aspect of the lifestyle in Roseto-a close knit group of Italian immigrants who were especially family-oriented; supportive to those in need across the generations, and generally light hearted in nature. Neighboring towns, although similar in many ways, had social structures much less cohesive than those in Roseto.
But over the years, the traditional family-centered orientation and emphasis on multi-generational living began to unravel in Roseto and social conditions came to more closely resemble those of the neighboring towns. And with the loss of community focus and sense of collective responsibility, the protection from heart attacks in Roseto gradually faded. By 10 years after the initial study, the death rate from heart disease in Roseto was identical to that of it’s immediate neighbors. Was the the health advantage of strong social connections, named the “Roseto Effect” merely an anomaly of this small village in Pennsylvania?
Fast forward 50 years. A research paper examines the impact of social connection in 70 individual studies of 48,000 people. Researchers concluded that the likelihood of dying over a 7 year period was increased by 29% among those who were socially isolated. The impact of social connection was especially strong in those under 65 years old. The “Roseto Effect” was confirmed.
A similar finding of social connectedness has also been noted in the so-called “Blue Zones”-regions across the globe distinguished for both longevity as well as low rates of chronic disease. Although healthy patterns of eating were common in the Blue Zones, the company in which the food was consumed-as well as the strength of the social bonds-were also common denominators.
How can you use this information to support your own health?
Family dinners. A phone call to check-in on a friend. Picnics. Clubs. More time spent in the company of people you care about helps stack the deck for both a longer and fuller life.
It’s interesting to note that the desire to spend time with people we care about is both a prime reason to strive for good health-as well as the source of longevity itself.