When it comes to wellness, people often talk about mind, body, and soul (or spirit). Rarely are the terms wellness, health and community used in the same sentence. A few years ago, while learning more about Italian-Americans, I discovered the town Roseto, Pennsylvania. There were a large number of Italian-American immigrants that settled in this town and stayed for over four generations. Families that have moved away still return to Roseto every year for “The Big Time”, a celebration of the community.
What makes Roseto, PA stand out?
Regardless of diet and exercise, the people in the town of Roseto, as compared to neighboring towns, had fewer heart attacks. Even with a diet high in fat, loaded with pounds of spaghetti, meats, and smoking, the people in Roseto had the lowest rate of heart attacks in the United States. When two doctors realized that people in Roseto were having fewer heart attacks than anywhere else in the country, they decided to investigate. The town was studied over 50 years, looking for the first time beyond individual health habits and into the behavior of people in the community. It was discovered that in Roseto, three generations of families lived together and the community was supportive. People helped each other. People talked to their neighbors. People shared meals with each other. People had less heart attacks. This was named the Roseto Effect. As time went on and the younger generations moved away or spent more time outside of the local community, the numbers of heart attacks were no longer the low numbers they once were.
What can we learn from Roseto?
When community is strong and people are cared for, it can have a positive impact on their stress levels which may overall effect their health. So when we think about being healthy, we need to not only look at diet and exercise, but our greater community. If you want to learn more about the beautiful town of Roseto, watch this segment from the PBS documentary The Italian-Americans.
How I build community
Growing up in an Italian-American family, I witnessed the beauty of large family gatherings. I know at any time I can call a family member with a question or for help with something. I have grown up watching the culture of community within my family, extending our love, kindness, and a meal, to family and beyond. In fact, we’ve unofficially adopted a few friends into our family along the way. I build community by cooking for people and sharing a meal. I enjoy cooking and having a room full of people to feed. I’ve been doing this since I moved to California and I feel it has personally helped me foster the relationships I have here.
This week in my classes, before we began asanas, I asked everyone to introduce themselves to someone they didn’t know and to tell them one interesting thing about themselves. The vibration of chatter in the yoga room was beautiful. People spoke with people they have seen many times before and never even knew their name. At the end of class we closed with a meditation on the person they met in class and then someone they loved dearly in their lives, wishing them both well.
How do you build community?
Egolf, B., Lasker, J., Wolf, S., & Potvin, L. (1992). The Roseto effect: A 50-year comparison of mortality rates. Am J Public Health, 82(8), 1089-1092.