The Secret to Living Better and Longer is Each Other

The under-rated effects and health benefits of close-knit communities, described by “The Roseto Effect.”

Photo by Unsplash, artwork by The Purple Thread

One of the most thought-provoking concepts through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition was within a presentation called, “Mind Over Medicine” by Lissa Rankin, MD, and is known as “The Roseto Effect.”

Quick facts:

  • Roseto is a town in Pennsylvania that was named after Roseto Valfortore, the Italian province in which many of its dwellers lived before coming to America.
  • In the 1950s and 1960s, the working-class town was largely populated by these Italian-Americans.
  • It was discovered that they didn’t particularly get heart disease or many stress-related illnesses.

It became a mystery as to why these residents of Roseto didn’t really get sick.

  • Was it their diet? They ate fried meatballs, drank wine, and smoked cigars. So, not really, no.
  • Was it wealth? No. They were working-class.
  • Was it their DNA? Nope. Nothing specific.

The town attracted medical researchers, who learned that Rosetans “had a strikingly low mortality rate from myocardial infarction (heart attack)” relative to the next town over. They drank the same water and saw the same doctors, yet they were not only living longer but with quality even in their later years. Functional medicine expert Dr. Mark Hyman stresses the equal importance of “healthspan” to lifespan. Longevity is an admirable goal, but let us also remember that our health needs to keep up for those aging years to be of quality. Research on Roseto led to clear findings: the residents intensely valued “family ties and cohesive community relationships.”

In Roseto, PA, there was one clear factor that was exceptionally low: loneliness. And another that was exceptionally high: togetherness.

Photo by PBS.org

How did the Roseto community achieve such longevity and freedom from most disease?

  • It’s important to note that back then, food was less processed than it is now. Even seemingly “unhealthy” food was typically from local sources and of better quality. In a book of his that was first published in 2010, Dr. Larry McCleary stated that “eighty percent of the food on shelves of supermarkets today didn’t exist 100 years ago.”
  • They lived in multi-generational homes. Aside from having more time together, they all contributed to the household operations.
  • They cooked, ate, and celebrated together.
  • They were spiritual.
  • They organized consistent gatherings.
  • Everyone knew and looked out for each other.
  • They were the definition of, “It takes a village.”
  • Though they worked hard and did not have particularly “easy lives,” ultimately, they had less stress and worry.
  • They understood the power of primary food (life factors that are emotionally/spiritually nourishing) and natural balance.

Apparently, one of Roseto’s longest-living citizens, Carmen Ruggiero, was born in 1912 (the year the Titanic sank!) and lived just a few weeks before turning 104 years old. Ruggiero said, “The moment you start stressing about things, he said, is when the problems come. He believed that being happy with very little was the secret to longevity.” Less can be more if we let it.

Dr. Lissa Rankin went on to say that loneliness causes overwhelm, which causes the nervous system to experience a stress response, in addition to other legitimate physical and mental health risks. Read more about them here.

So, what can we do? Especially in today’s world? Though tempting, maybe excessive amounts of meat, lard, wine, and cigars aren’t the answer. But quality indulgences in moderation and plenty of genuine connection could be.

  • Make a habit of scheduling monthly get-togethers (virtually or in-person depending on safety precautions and comfort level) where everyone can contribute to the meal and take turns hosting. Having something to look forward to creates positive excitement.
  • Keep these meals simple and prep anything possible ahead of time so that you can actually enjoy time with your loved ones.
  • Coordinate walks or coffee dates with a friend, with maybe a goal to do so weekly, etc.
  • Meet a new neighbor. Sometimes it just takes being the first one to say hi when passing each other.
  • Support your local businesses and get to know the people behind them. They rely on their community to survive, and it’s nice to have a local spot that feels like home when you walk in the door.
  • See if your local shelter or non-profit organizations need volunteer support (they do). It will not only provide you with a sense of purpose and help for others, but it is also a simple way to put yourself in a new environment, either alone or with a local friend.

While working on building your own “village,” how can you combat loneliness for your loved ones too? Just a text, call, or visit can go a long way. Your time is yours to spend, do it wisely!

Salute!

Comment Prompt:
What do you think about the effect others can have on our health? What are some ways you cure loneliness?

Originally published at https://www.thepurplethread.com.

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Danielle DeZao

Danielle DeZao

Storyteller & Well-Being Coach. Connecting to ourselves, together. www.thepurplethread.com