Communities and tribes have become fashionable buzzwords during the past few years. As a quick look at MeetUp.com will tell you, there’s a community for pretty much everything, from fitness to boardgames to entrepreneurship
It makes sense, this turn to connected, face-to-face communities -- perhaps as a course correction from the primacy of social media and technology, simultaneously driving us closer together but also further apart.
But is the hype around community warranted? According to scientific studies charting the impact of community upon health, it looks to be something worth paying attention to.
As a starting point, it turns out that loneliness kills. Literally. According to this review study, feeling lonely can be lethal. Using data from 70 studies involving more than 3 million people, it concludes that loneliness, social isolation, and living alone contribute to premature death.
Perhaps most interestingly, younger people were found to be a greater risk of death from loneliness than their elders, dispelling the notion that only the elderly are endangered by isolation. The study also found no distinction between whether subjects felt lonely or were objectively isolated, suggesting that our health and wellbeing is more dependent on a feeling of connectedness rather than having a large number of people around us.
Community and Longevity
Loneliness may be deadly, but the good news is that being part of a community has a big impact on longevity.
Dan Buettner has become a global authority on longevity, investigating the secrets to longevity hotspots found around the world. According to his findings, the people that live the longest are those who are the most social. There is a strong relationship between both the quantity and quality of daily social interactions to a long and happy life.
In societies with the most centenarians, social interaction is part and parcel with the running’s of daily life, forming the backbone of meal times, work and recreational activity. In longevity hotspots, socialisation is inherent, rather than something that is formally arranged on the side.
Various scientific studies have backed up, with scientific evidence, the theory that communities foster good health. A study entitled ‘The Roseto Effect: A 50 Year Comparison of Mortality Rates’, for example, has provided medical proof that those in a close-knit caring community experienced decades long reduced rates of heart disease and stress related illnesses - independent of other factors like diet and exercise. The author’s conclusions went even further to say: “The characteristics of a tight-knit community are better predictors of healthy hearts than low levels of serum cholesterol or tobacco use”.
Other studies have shown that those with ovarian cancer who had lots of social support had much lower levels of a protein linked to more aggressive cancers, making their treatments more effective. It has also been documented that breast cancer patients live twice as long if they are part of a support group, and also suffer less pain.
The list goes on, but ultimately the science is there. Does community really matter?
Finding your tribe can be a difficult task, but it seems that the simple step of feeling part of a community – any community – has incredible benefits beyond the idea of just feeling like you belong.
Does community really matter? If you’re concerned about your health and wellbeing, it looks like the answer is a resounding ‘yes’.
Written by Grace Waters