Love thy neighbour, it may be good for your heart!
Friendly neighbours and tight-knit local communities can lower a person's risk of suffering a heart attack, according to a new study.
Neighbourhood social cohesion - the willingness of members of a society to cooperate with each other - is linked to lower risk of heart attack, the study found.
Current evidence suggests that the characteristics of an area in which a person lives can negatively affect their cardiovascular health.
This includes, for example, the density of fast food outlets; levels of violence, noise, and pollution; drug use; and building disrepair.
But few studies have looked at the potential health enhancing effects of positive local neighbourhood characteristics, such as perceived neighbourhood social cohesion, researchers said.
The study tracked the cardiovascular health of over 5,000 US adults with no known heart problems over a period of four years, starting in 2006. Their average age was 70, and almost two thirds were women and married (62 per cent).
All the study participants were taking part in the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative study of American adults over the age of 50, who are surveyed every two years.
In 2006 participants were asked to score on a validated seven point scale how much they felt part of their local neighbourhood; if they felt they had neighbours who would help them if they got into difficulty; whether they trusted most people in the area; and felt they were friendly.
During the four year monitoring period, 148 of the 5,276 participants (66 women and 82 men) had a heart attack.
Analysis of the data showed that each standard deviation increase in perceived neighbourhood social cohesion was associated with a 22 per cent reduced risk of a heart attack.
Put another way, on the seven-point scale, each unit increase in neighbourhood social cohesion was associated with a 17 per cent reduced risk of heart attack.
This association held true even after adjusting for relevant sociodemographic, behavioural, biological, and psychosocial factors, as well as individual-level social support.
The researchers said their findings echo those of other studies which have found a link between well integrated local neighbourhoods and lower stroke and heart disease risk.
"Perceived neighbourhood social cohesion could be a type of social support that is available in the neighbourhood social environment outside the realm of family and friends," researchers said in the study published in the BMJ journal.
Tight-knit local communities may help to reinforce and 'incentivise' certain types of cohesive behaviours and so exclude antisocial behaviours, they said.