Did you know that your health and the health of your community are connected?

We all know the health benefits of eating well and exercising, but less well known are the benefits of belonging to a vibrant community.

There has long been a disconnect in the medical world between the body and the mind, but the two are linked in more ways than modern science currently understands. Did you know that it is possible to die of a broken heart? If your partner dies your chances of a heart attack rise considerably. We know that happy people are healthier and that a poor diet affects your mental wellbeing. We see that mental health problems are consistently connected to social exclusion, and that death rates are higher for those who are socially isolated.

Studies have consistently shown that having a strong sense of community belonging improves health. If you have a large network of friends and acquaintances, if you work outside your home, if you are involved in your local community as a volunteer or member of community groups, you will be healthier.

There are many reasons for this. You can be part of a group of people who all exercise and eat well, and this will mean that you probably do the same. Having a supportive network of people around you is invaluable when times are tough. Imagine how hard life would be without friends or family to cook you dinner when you’re sick, or to take care of your child when you need a break. We’re social animals, us human beings, and going it alone is really difficult.

There has been much talk in academic and political circles in recent years of social capital. We speak of capital as a way of measuring our economic and political wealth, but it is also a useful concept to measure the wealth of our community. A community with a wealth of social capital is the kind of place we all want to live. The kind of community where you know your neighbour’s names and they water your garden and feed your pets when you go on holidays. Where people trust each other. Where there are dynamic and powerful community organizations that are returning power to the local level.

There has also been talk of the breakdown of community, and in the last few decades, this has been the case. But I believe, and I hope I’m right, that we’re seeing a resurgence of community spirit in many areas. There seem to be more stories every week about new community gardens and community initiatives, more stories about community based activism.

It’s great to see communities getting to know each other and working together. Initiatives such as the sharehood are encouraging people to meet their neighbours’ and share resources with those around them. Community banks are popping up all over the place; not only strengthening the social capital of a community, but their economic capital as well.

The Hepburn community in the Daylesford area have raised 95% of the capital to buy two turbines which they estimate will supply more power than all the houses in the community will use. There are some articles on this here http://www.theage.com.au/environment/daylesford-wind-farm-goes-ahead-20100428-tshz.html and you can visit the Hepburn Wind website here http://www.hepburnwind.com.au . This is a great example of what communities can achieve, and how we can reclaim ownership over our resources.

Belonging to an active community is good for you and good for your community. Your community is healthier; it has more resources and more members able to access them. Power is returned to the local level and your community becomes stronger and more able to become self-sufficient. You get the benefits to your health and happiness that a sense of belonging brings, you get new friends, you get someone to collect your mail when you go on holidays, and maybe you get some wind turbines.

Tips for getting involved in your local community:

  1. Say hi to your neighbours. Start talking about the weather or the garden and see what happens.
  2. Shop locally – get to know your local greengrocer, baker and butcher..
  3. Take a class at your local community centre.
  4. Join a local interest group; contact your local council, community centre or look on the noticeboard at your local library.
  5. Volunteer for an organization – see govolunteer.com.au or your local council’s website.
  6. Become a Food Connect City Cousin. Meet the people who come to collect their fruit and veg boxes from you.

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