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Good neighborhood leads to a healthy heart, study suggests

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Adopting a healthy diet and engaging in regular physical activities are practices that are good for the heart and are known to reduce the risks of heart disease, a prevalent condition among Americans that is responsible for about one in every four deaths in the U.S. per year.

It also appears that having good neighbors can also provide cardiovascular health benefits. A new research found evidence that having a good neighborhood is associated with having a healthy heart and reduced odds for a heart attack. The study conducted by researchers from the University of Michigan shows that people who live in a neighborhood with close community ties are nearly 70 percent less likely to have a heart attack.

For the study that was published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health on Aug. 18. Eric Kim, from the Department of Psychology of the University of Michigan, and colleagues, tracked the cardiovascular health of more than 5,000 individuals who were more than 50 years old and never had a heart attack, and participated in the Health and Retirement Study being conducted by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research (ISR).

The participants, 62 percent of whom were married and almost two thirds were women, were followed for four years and asked to rate their neighbor's trustworthiness, reliability and friendliness, which is collectively known as neighborhood cohesion, using a seven-point scale. During the span of the study period, 148 of the participants had a heart attack but the participants who gave the highest rating for neighborhood cohesion were found to be less likely to have a heart attack.

The researchers in particular noted that every single increase in neighborhood cohesion rate is associated with 17 percent reduced risks for a heart attack and those who gave the highest neighborhood cohesion score had 67 percent reduced odds of heart attack leading to the researchers' conclusion that having a good neighborhood may provide beneficial effects to the heart.

"Higher perceived neighborhood social cohesion may have a protective effect against myocardial infarction," Kim and colleagues wrote.

The findings of the research support earlier studies that found an association between living in good neighborhood and reduced odds for heart attack and stroke. Despite showing an association between good neighborhood and better heart health, however, the researchers of the new study said that it is still an observational study and the findings do not prove a cause and effect relationship.

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