Community is becoming more and more recognised as a vital component to health.
I think I realised quite young, whilst at university, that the people in my life is what would bring me the greatest joys in life. Christmas time made me reflect on how lucky I am to have my own little community of those I love.
We can learn many lessons from the Blue Zones, several of which relate to community. When you consider that we’re social creatures, this starts to make sense. 3 of the 9 lessons ‘Power 9’ from Blue Zone areas relate to communities1:
This is one of my favourite lessons from the Blue Zones. Committing to a life partner, living close to older relatives and investing time and love in your children all improved life expectancy and quality of life.
Finding your tribe:
People of the Blue Zones are often born into or chose social environments that support healthy behaviours. Friends can be committed to each other for life. Feelings and habits such as happiness, loneliness and smoking are contagious, therefore surrounding yourself socially with healthy people can help you lead a healthier, happier lifestyle.
Many of the centenarians researched in the Blue Zones belonged to a faith-based community. The denomination of this faith was irrelevant. Attending faith-based gatherings once a week was shown to add 4-14 years of life expectancy.
For more information on Blue Zones, see my blog about them.
Loneliness is on the rise, and not only in the old. Recent surveys showed that young people are the loneliest of our population 2. Our lives are busy and it’s not uncommon to live far away to inbuilt support mechanisms of family and life-long friends. Social media can be great, but it can also create a distance in relationships, feeling you’re in touch with someone without actually seeing them in person.
I thought I’d include a couple of the studied benefits of having a community:
- One study showed that social networks are associated with a reduce risk of coronary artery disease, lower blood sugar, reduced levels of smoking, lower rates of high blood pressure and diabetes3 – wow!
- We know, in part from the Framingham study, that we are influenced by the behaviours of others. Therefore, having friends with healthy lifestyle behaviours can act as an incentive to become healthier ourselves.
- Another study demonstrated the risk of dementia is 70% lower in the older population when you have friends4. What was evident in this study was it’s the quality of friendships, not quantity, that generates the greatest health gain. It’s more a lack of loneliness and strength in the friendships you have than being a socialite!
Being part of a community can also influence another key aspect of a fulfilled life, purpose. The feeling of being relied on and irreplaceable that unconditional friendships bring provides us with a purpose. A key component of ikigai.
Picture source: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life Might Just Help You Live a More Fulfilling…. Available at: https://medium.com/thrive-global/ikigai-the-japanese-secret-to-a-long-and-happy-life-might-just-help-you-live-a-more-fulfilling-9871d01992b7
Relationships take work, of course they do, and everyone in a different way. This is worth it. The value they bring to your health and happiness, to me, the greatest joy of life.
With some of the healthiest populations in the world valuing community and loneliness being on the rise I think it’s really important to ‘find your tribe’. Everyone has their own personality, preferred social interactions and ways of communicating. This means you might find your kind of people in different social spheres. Here are some ideas to find a community for you:
Take up a new hobby – this could be a local sports team, or social club. Getting together to be active, chat or play a board-game can spark new relationships.
Park Run – listen to Dr Rangan Chatterjee’s podcast on how park run is more than just about physical activity, it’s a community.
Online – face to face human contact is arguably the best for wellbeing. This said, when used correctly social media can open a world of like-minded people to you. This can be a great way of meeting people you share interests with if you can’t find local people who do. You can always consider meeting people you meet online in real life, if you feel safe and comfortable doing so.
Find a cause that’s important to you – volunteers are often welcomed with open arms. If you find an organisation looking for help locally and the cause means something to you, you might find like-minded people volunteering too.
These are just a few ideas to get you thinking and hopefully inspire you to go out and find a group of people you can engage with and feel comfortable being yourself around. This is one of my keys to happiness.
- Power 9® – Blue Zones. Available at: https://www.bluezones.com/2016/11/power-9/. (Accessed: 10th November 2018)
- BBC – 16-24 year olds are the loneliest age group according to new BBC Radio 4 survey – Media Centre. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/latestnews/2018/loneliest-age-group-radio-4. (Accessed: 28th December 2018)
- Rutledge, T. et al. Social Networks Are Associated With Lower Mortality Rates Among Women With Suspected Coronary Disease: The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute-Sponsored Women’s Ischemia Syndrome Evaluation Study. Psychosom. Med. 66, 882–888 (2004).
- James, B. D., Wilson, R. S., Barnes, L. L. & Bennett, D. A. Late-Life Social Activity and Cognitive Decline in Old Age. J. Int. Neuropsychol. Soc. 17, 998–1005 (2011).