Where you live could affect your health more than you think, according to a new study.

By Samantha Zabell
Updated August 20, 2014

Here’s news that’ll make you want to thank your neighbors: New research from the University of Michigan suggests that close ties with others in your community could reduce heart attack risk.

The study, published in The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, showed that a good neighborhood was associated with a 22 percent decreased risk of heart attack. The results are based on a four-year analysis of 5,276 adults over the age of 50 with no reported histories of heart disease at the study’s outset, the majority of whom were married women. During the study period, 66 women and 82 men suffered from a heart attack—just under three percent of the participants.

Rather than focusing on the typical negative correlations between neighborhoods and health—violence, fast food density, and air quality, to name a few—the researchers looked at “social cohesion.” They found good neighborhoods were high in social cohesion, which is characterized by how secure, connected, and trustworthy the neighbors feel in the community: think block parties, long walks, and running next door for extra flour and eggs.

Back in 2006, participants were surveyed for the university’s Health and Retirement Study, which assesses more than 26,000 Americans over age 50 biennially, and rated on a seven-point scale how connected they felt to their neighborhood. Those with a Mister Rogers attitude—meaning they believed they had friendly neighbors who would help them in a crisis—had a lower risk of heart attack after four years than those who scored a relatively low level of neighborhood cohesion.

The findings are important, considering each year 720,000 Americans suffer a heart attack, and heart disease remains the leading cause of death in America, according to the CDC. While the researchers didn’t establish a definitive link between social cohesion and reduced heart attack risk, a similar 2007 study of Swedish adults suggested the good neighborhood factor might have something to do with increased physical activity. That is, adults will be more likely to go for a stroll when they feel safe where they live. Even so, it can’t hurt to wave hello at your neighbors once in a while, or invite them over for a heart-healthy dinner.