Want to Feel Healthier? – Get Connected With Your Community

For each and every Canadian, feeling connected to community plays a key role in how healthy you feel.

Results from the 2005 Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS), which takes a close look at how connected Canadians feel from coast to coast, show that two-thirds (64%) have a strong sense of community belonging. Of this group, two-thirds also feel that their health is excellent or very good.

Sense of belonging highest in Newfoundland, lowest in large cities.

Three-quarters of Canadians living in the Atlantic provinces said they felt connected, with residents of Newfoundland reporting the highest rate (79%) in the entire country. Those living in Saskatchewan (73%) and British Columbia (69%) also reported strong ties to the community. Residents of Quebec reported the lowest sense of community belonging (54%).

The same study also shows that people living in major urban centres such as Toronto, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, were less likely to report feeling connected to their communities.

For the past 25 years, ongoing research has shown that people who are excluded from society with few ties to others are more likely to have poor physical and mental health and to die prematurely. People who have lots of what is known as social capital, on the other hand, are more likely to live longer.

Belonging—linked to the ties that bind

Social capital acts like a kind of currency for healthy living that grows when you’re involved in civic activities and earn the trust and cooperation of others. It has been suggested that social capital promotes mutual respect and that this in turn boosts self-esteem. Social capital may also promote healthy behaviours such as being physically active and choosing not to smoke.

Importantly, social support networks provide an important piece of the big picture of health that encompasses complex interactions between social and economic factors, the physical environment and individual behaviour. These factors, known as the determinants of health, provide a measure of health status.

“People do want to belong,” confirms Tekla Hendrickson, director of the Ontario Women’s Health Network. “They want to have their role, their voice and their place in society, with space for diversity and different voices to be heard.”

For the past 18 months, the Ontario Women’s Health Network has met with more than 200 women in focus groups, making them partners in finding relevant solutions to problems such as marginal housing and reducing risk of stroke. “We ask women what they think the solutions are and then develop a health promotion approach that builds on what they already have,” explains Hendrickson.

Community connectedness works much the same way as job satisfaction. “Women who are the most satisfied with their jobs are the ones with the most autonomy and the most control over their schedules,” points out Hendrickson. “It’s the same with community: women with the most input are the most connected and healthy.”

Women who have more friends also have better mental health than those who are loners, research shows. Sharing your experience with others is empowering and increases confidence, notes Hendrickson. “We talk it out and we problem solve together. It’s powerful when you know that you’re not alone.”

Want to feel more connected to your community?

There are many ways to get involved, meet new people and make new friends. Here are some ideas to help you get connected:

  • lend a hand in a cause that you support.
  • help out organizations in your community by becoming a volunteer.
  • join self-help and support groups.
  • get to know your neighbours. Join your neighbourhood association or help to organize a community garden.
  • read your local paper to find out about events and activities to join.
  • visit your local community centre, library or your child’s school to find out more about community involvement.

Whatever you choose, don’t delay. Your health and well-being depend on it!

Courtesy of Canadian Health Network