Local ties 'affect heart health'
People with good neighbours and strong community ties are less likely to suffer heart attacks, new research suggests.
Researchers tracked the health of more than 5,000 American adults over the age of 50 with no known heart problems over four years from 2006.
At the start of the study, published in the Journal Epidemiology and Community Health, the participants were asked to describe how much they were part of their neighbourhood.
The "perceived neighbourhood social cohesion" survey saw participants answer the questions on a seven-point scale about their neighbours and community.
They were asked how much they fe lt part of their neighbourhood, whether there would be lots of people to help them if they were ever in trouble, how much they trusted people in their area and how friendly their neighbours were.
Of the 5,276 people studied, 148 had heart attacks during the four-year follow up period.
After taking into account other contributing factors, researchers found that people have a reduced risk of heart attack if they responded positively to the questions.
They found that on the seven-point scale, each point increase in perceived neighbourhood social cohesion was associated with a 17% reduced risk of a heart attack.
While the authors from the University of Michigan called for more research into the field, they said previous studies have linked better social support to improved heart health.
"Greater perceived social support - one's perception of access to social support - has been linked with better cardiovascular health," they wrote.
"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."
Julie Ward, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: "It's not just diet and exercise which can influence our heart health, even the physical environment and communities we live in can play a significant part.
"We know, for example, that living in poor housing, in a deprived neighbourhood with a lack of green open spaces can have a negative impact on our health.
"This study goes a step further showing the reverse could be true - that living in a community with good neighbours that look out for and support you could have a positive effect by reducing your risk of a heart attack.
"However, there were several important limitations to this study so further research is needed to include a larger and more diverse range of ethnic minority populations."