Living close to family, friends may help slow your aging; study discovers the importance of good neighbors
11/27/2018 // Russel Davis // Views

Having family and friends in close proximity may significantly improve overall health and well being, according to an animal study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A team of researchers at the University of East Anglia, the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom, and the University of Groningen in the Netherlands has collaborated in order to carry out the study.

As part of the study, the research team observed a population of Seychelles warblers and examined their behavior and health status in response to their neighbor's antics. The experts also assessed the animals' body condition and telomere length. Telomeres are sections of DNA that easily erode due to stress and poor health. The study has revealed that the birds occasionally fought with new, unrelated neighbors but not with their family members or neighbors they have known for quite some time. According to the results, birds living in close proximity to their relatives and long-time neighbors have also exhibited significantly better health and less telomere loss.

However, the scientists observed that the birds displayed worse condition and more telomere shortening whenever new and unfamiliar birds move into the neighborhood. The findings demonstrate that having good neighbors may positively impact health and wellness, the research team has noted.

"Defending territory boundaries is crucial if animals are to hold onto valuable food and other resources. Territory owners who are constantly fighting with neighbors are stressed and have little time to do other important things – such as finding food and producing offspring – and their health suffers as a result. Interestingly, we show that it’s not just relatives that can be trusted, but also neighbors you get to know well over time. Something similar probably occurs in human neighborhoods: if you’ve lived next to your neighbor for years, you are much more likely to trust each other and help each other out now and then," lead author Kat Bebbington has stated in a university release.


Trusting neighbors may help boost human health, too

A 2011 study carried out by researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia (MU) has indicated that fostering and increasing trust among neighbors may lead to better self-reported health. The research team pooled data from the 2001 Los Angeles Family and Neighborhood Survey to carry out the study. The experts also took into account several factors -- such as education levels, income, and age -- in observing the respondents.

The findings revealed that people with a higher income relative to their community tend to trust their neighbors less, which in turn may lead to poorer health condition. In contrast, people who trust their neighbors have exhibited better overall health. (Related: Healthy social relationships are crucial for good physical, mental and emotional health.)

"Because human beings engage in interpersonal comparisons in order to gauge individual characteristics, it has been suggested that a low relative position, or feeling that you are below another person financially, leads to stress and negative emotions such as shame, hostility and distrust, and that health suffers as a consequence. While most people aren't aware of how trust impacts them, results indicated that trust was a factor in a person's overall health," researcher Eileen Bjornstrom, an assistant professor of sociology in the MU College of Arts and Science, has discussed in a EurekAlert article.

The results suggest that overcoming distrust towards neighbors may be beneficial for the body's overall well-being, Bjornstrom has added. According to the sociology expert, using shared community resources such as parks and sidewalks may help resolve the trust gap between neighbors and may even improve an individual's well-being once the community reaches complete cohesion.

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