Study: Friendly Neighborhoods Reduce Risk of Heart Attack

Knowing your neighbors may be good for your heart — and not just emotionally — according to a new study by psychologists at the University of Michigan. The more social connecSONY DSCtions you have in your neighborhood, the less likely you are to die from a heart attack, according to the study, which was published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

The study is based on assessments of social connectedness for more than 5,000 adults in urban, suburban, and rural areas over a four-year period. By the end of the four years, 148 of the more than 5,000 adults had heart attacks.

“Each unit of increase in neighborhood social cohesion was associated with a 17 percent reduced risk of heart attacks,” says lead author Eric Kim, a psychologist and doctoral student at University of Michigan. “If you compare the people who had the most versus the least neighborhood social cohesion, they had a 67 percent reduced risk of heart attack.”

The researchers controlled for factors like optimism, age, race, income, marital status, education, mental health, and known risk factors for heart attacks such as diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure.

Kim says that maintaining friendly neighbor relations could be good for your health because neighbors may be more likely to check in on one another and notice any potential health problems, share any health-related information, lend money, or share resources. “I also really believe in how helpful emotional support can be in buffering against toxic effects of stress,” Kim says.

While Kim’s team focused on the positive elements of a neighborhood that “might perhaps be protective or even enhancing of health,” past studies have mostly focused on how negative factors in a neighborhood — such as density of nearby fast food outlets, violence, noise, and poor air quality — can impact health. For example, a 2003 study in the American Journal of Public Health found that “boarded-up housing” often correlated to higher rates of gonorrhea in a neighborhood and premature death due to cancer or complications of diabetes. A study from University of Pennsylvania researchers found that abandoned buildings in an area could lead to isolation and hamper social relationships and feelings of mutual trust in an area, which also could lead to poor physical health of residents who live nearby.

Source: “Always Talk to Strangers,” The Atlantic (Aug. 19, 2014) 

Picking the Perfect Neighborhood

Community
Check out the local markets, parks, shops, restaurants and community events. Attending events will allow you to get a feel for the area and your potential neighbors. Ask store owners and community members what they love about the neighborhood.

Crime
Check with the local police department or state Web site for crime statistics in the area. Sites like Family Watch Dog and Spot Crime are great places to start.

Transportation

Consider how you will get around. Is there public transportation? Do most people drive? Is it safe to ride a bike? How far will your commute be to work? Time it during rush hour to make sure. What about grocery stores, restaurants, malls, pharmacies and doctor’s offices? You may not want to drive 20 minutes for a loaf of bread or to refill your prescription.

Schools
Research the local school districts. Are public and private schools available? Do they offer extra curricular activities? What is the cost per student? If your child will ride a bus, how long will it take to reach school grounds?

Traffic and Noise
Walk around the community at different times of the day as well as during the evening. Are there railroads, airports or entertainment establishments around? Where are the highways located? Have sound barriers been constructed?

These are all important aspects of a neighborhood to consider. Ask for information from your professionally certified Realtor®, and use the internet as a resource. Your Realtor® should be able to give you great insight into the area, and provide you with the tools you need to make your decision.

Walkability Becomes Plus for Buyers

Walk Score identifies San Francisco as the most walkable city in the United States, mainly due to the close proximity of amenities in its Chinatown, Financial District, and Downtown neighborhoods.

New York’s Tribeca, Little Italy, and Soho neighborhoods helped it land a No. 2 ranking on the Web site’s list of the most walkable cities, with Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Seattle, the District of Columbia, Long Beach, Los Angeles, and Portland rounding out the top 10, in that order.

Experts say more people are moving to urban areas as a way to spend less money on gas, though convenience and exercise also play a role.

The Center for Neighborhood Technology–which insists a shift in transportation spending is necessary to make mass transit more efficient–says individuals reduce their annual gas expenses by as much as $2,100 when they live in urban areas versus outer-ring suburbs.

Source: Seattle Times, Amy Hoak (08/10/08)

Neighborhood Know-How

You can learn a lot about the character of a neighborhood just by driving around. Also, consider talking to some of the neighbors about concerns such as:

*How do the children routinely reach their schools, play areas and friends’ homes — by walking, bicycle, bus or do parents drive them?

*Is public transportation available for commuting or shopping?

*How far away is your place of worship?

*Do any local ordinances affect pets, parking, lawn care or other activities?

*What are the disadvantages of the neighborhood? Freeway, railroad or airplane noise? Factory pollution, heavy traffic, exposure to heavy storms, possible flooding?

*Are there homeowners’ association restrictions?

Here are some additional sources for gathering neighborhood information:

*Drop in on local school board, government or other open community meetings.

*Visit the schools.

*Dine and shop in local establishments.

*Subscribe and read the community newspaper.

Remember, if you’re looking at a well-regarded, established neighborhood or an up-and-coming one, you may find it worth the extra money you’ll have to put into the purchase of the home. On the other hand, if the neighborhood is past its peak, you may want to lower your offer accordingly.