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Community and you: at the heart of your health

What is a Community or Social Network?

The word community can mean a lot of different things, but fundamentally it’s about the relationships we build and the social units we interact and communicate with.  This can mean friends, family, groups with common interests that we are part of or volunteer with and our local community. These communities or networks can be physical or virtual.

Participating in your community is a fundamental aspect of wellbeing. Our 2018 Wellbeing Survey revealed that over half (51%) of people believed ‘meaningful relationships’ defined wellbeing for them.

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Having a greater sense of community is associated with higher levels of happiness amongst our users. In particular, even a small amount of volunteering correlates to being happier and this effect is stronger the more frequently we volunteer!

On the other hand, not being part of your community through social isolation, real or imagined, can make us feel unsafe. Recent research has documented the detrimental effects that loneliness has on your health. Studies have found that feeling lonely is as bad for you as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and social isolation can increase your risk of death by 29%Feeling lonely predicts depressive symptoms, poor sleep, reduced physical activity, impaired cognition and cognitive decline

Meeting up in person during the current pandemic isn’t always possible, but phoning or using online meetings has never been so easy and can really make a difference to reinforcing your own sense of community.

The Positive effects of Community

It might feel a little daunting to take the first steps to feel more connected. But it’s worth considering the positive impact that it can have on your health and wellbeing.

1. Community and life expectancy

Areas of the world with the highest number of people living over 100-years-old are known as Blue Zones and include Sardinia (Italy), Ikaria (Greece) and Okinawa (Japan). Research in these Blue Zone communities has shown that participation in the local community on a regular basis and a sense of belonging to a group is an essential component of a longer life.  In fact, an analysis of many research studies showed a 50% increased survival for people with stronger social relationships, taking into account risky behaviours like smoking and alcohol. That’s the equivalent to the benefits of stopping smoking!

2. Community and mental health

Social networks are shown to protect against dementia and minimise the risk of developing depression. In a report comparing people with and without mental health problems, social participation was found to be the biggest differentiating factor.

3. Community and use of health services

Research has shown that being better connected to your community can reduce the need for medical intervention. A project in Frome, Somerset brought the community together through a range of projects. The scheme resulted in a 17% reduction in people needing hospital and GP services. Essentially, this shows that social action can lower A&E attendance, planned and unplanned hospital admissions and outpatient attendance. This is great for our NHS and staff and helps to reduce the strain on services, but it also suggests that integrating with community can make us all healthier.

4. Community and family

An analysis into the impact of family relationships on health found that support from a loved one may improve physical health in several ways. You can benefit from improved emotional health and your family member can help reduce risky behaviour which could negatively affect your wellbeing. Having family nearby can also enable early detection and treatment of conditions, as well as help your recovery

5. Community and rest

We all know how important it is to balance work and leisure so we don’t burn out. Of course, you can enjoy downtime on your own, but taking part regularly in activities that involve meeting up with friends can be beneficial to your health. For example, there are a number of studies that show how playing golf with others can help with both physical and mental wellbeing.

Make positive change

Remember, the current pandemic doesn’t have to stop you reaching out to or building your network and community. There are still ways you can connect with others in your community on the phone or virtually.  Also, self-organised groups are popping up online that are helping people socialise whilst being physically apart. Covid-19 Mutual Aid has a list of local groups on its website that are independently run and organised via social media and email. It takes time and energy to build our communities, but the effects can be long lasting and positive. It can be summarised with these three Cs

  • Contact with other people that is meaningful and constructive leads to: ‍

  • Confidence to see ourselves in a positive way, to be in a position to take actions and responsibility and to have a positive impact on those around us. That leads to:‍

  • Control over the circumstances of our own lives

Feel better, together

If you decide to try any of these self-help strategies to improve your community connections, be sure to check back in the Evergreen Life app and retake your test to see how your score has changed. We’re with you every step of the way.

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Not got the app yet? With Evergreen Life, you can measure and track areas of your wellbeing like community, sleep and fitness. Download the app below and take your available questionnaires in each section to start your wellness journey and look out for your notification to complete more questionnaires including the Community Check.

Reviewed by:

Dr James Harmsworth King MBBS MPhil PhD Biotechnology & Medical Expert

Virtual communities and well-being

Evergreen Life survey reveals mental health, happiness and socialisation are key to good wellbeing

Loneliness as a risk factor for mortality

Influences on loneliness in older adults: A meta-analysis

Loneliness – What characteristics and circumstances are associated with feeling lonely?

BA Blue Zones: Lessons from the World’s Longest Lived

Social relationships and mortality

Loneliness as a risk factor for loneliness

Social and leisure activities and the risk of dementia

Social disengagement and incident cognitive decline in community-dwelling elderly persons

Mental Health: Future challenges

Compassionate Community project

The impact of the family on health

The relationships between golf and health: a scoping review

Community development in health: A literature review,

Social capital for health: Issues of definition, measurement and links to health

Picture of Dr Brian Fisher MBBCh MBE MSc

Dr Brian Fisher MBBCh MBE MSc

Dr Brian Fisher MBBCh MBE MSc FRSA is Clinical Director at Evergreen Life, and a Medical Expert with more than 42 years’ experience as a GP. Brian supports people in staying as fit and well as possible by having more control over their health and healthcare.

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