How living in a community can improve health and extend lifespan
From the countless memes on the internet, you may have guessed that it’s officially the age of the introvert. It’s finally cool to wear your aloofness and social awkwardness like a badge of honour. But it is important to go out and socialise once in a while, because science says that socialising and community life has a lot more to offer than just some street cred. For instance, how does “a long healthy life” sound to you?
Human beings have always loved each other’s company. While early men banded together for survival, modern ones seek each other out for more complex reasons than just keeping safe from large sabre-toothed animals. The biggest testimony to this fact is the Blue Zones or regions of the world where people live longer-than-average lives – Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda, USA; Okinawa, Japan; Icaria, Greece; and Nicoya in Costa Rica.
National Geographic Fellow Dan Buettner, who first identified these zones, listed down the common lifestyle factors of the Blue Zone residents. Social engagement and community life figured prominently among these factors.
This brings us to the benefits of community life. Here’s how it can help you lead longer, healthier lives, and keep you #ForeverYoung.
When was the last time you felt stressed out and reached out for a tight hug? Remember feeling lighter afterward? That’s the power of oxytocin. When you meet a friend or spend time in a group, the hormone oxytocin is released, lowering your anxiety levels and stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system.
Social interaction can also give you some anti-ageing benefits by increasing your resilience to stress, which shortens your DNA telomeres.
Lowers Risk of Chronic Diseases
High levels of the stress hormone cortisol for a long term can wreak havoc in the body, causing high blood pressure, slow wound healing, inflammation, heart diseases, Alzheimer’s, dementia and cancers. Community living instills a sense of safety and happiness, reducing your stress levels and lowering your risk for life-threatening illnesses.
One of the biggest health benefits you receive from community life is a super sharp immune system. With constant social contact, your body is introduced to pathogens like bacteria and viruses in small numbers, helping your body become immune to them.
Meeting more people means a stronger immune system and fewer instances of infections. With a stronger immune system, your body can fend off colds, flu, infections and even some types of cancer.
Improved Mental Health
Being a part of the community can be good for your mental health as it makes you feel appreciated and loved. The more you interact with others, the better you feel about yourself. Social interactions and community life can also take the edge off mental health problems like depression.
Support from others is a key factor in decreasing functional impairment in people with anxiety and depression. Furthermore, it also increases the likelihood of recovery from mental health problems. A 1995 study also proved that Vietnam War veterans who received social support were 180% less likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.
The mental health benefits don’t stop there. Social interactions keep the brain sharp, improving cognitive functions and warding off neurodegenerative diseases.
Your social network can greatly impact your lifestyle choices. And that’s one of the reasons for the blue zone’s impressive health indices. Health practices like clean eating, exercising and recreation become a part of culture in the region. Most zones follow a diet rich in vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats. These communities also have a spiritual tilt, which is known to add 4-14 years to one’s life.
Many studies have been able to link life expectancy to the environment. People living in war-torn areas face more mental health and chronic health problems than those in relatively peaceful places.
People living in blue zone areas have exceptional longevity with most residents living up to the age of 90. Part of it can be attributed to their active community lives a strong purpose in life. Both have been known to increase your overall well-being and happiness in life. This directly translates to an improved lifespan.