Living Healthy Longer: It Takes Community

the italian americans documentary

by Dara Salk

While I was recovering from a silly cold, I watched the first part of “The Italian Americans,” a documentary on PBS, that I had DVR’d the previous week. One of the most wonderful technological advances I ever learned. I sail through commercials on network television. (I digress.)

Anyway, one of the topics covered was about Italian Americans in Roseto, a small town in eastern Pennsylvania, which became part of a national study during the 1950s, due to their longevity. Most particularly, heart attacks were 40 percent lower than expected. They looked at every physical factor — food choices, level of activity, weight, smoking — everything was the same as neighboring towns.

The one feature that stood out was the close-knit relationships among residents in this community. Even though these families’ ancestors had settled in Roseto over 50 years before, in the 1880s, there was still a feeling of being involved and cared about in this community. This isn’t a new concept, but it resonated with me.

Of course, we all can’t live in a small town with neighbors whose ancestors emigrated from the same village in the old country together. Yet we can all choose to have strong social ties within our communities. We know how to live longer! The operative word here is CHOOSE!  How exciting it is to know that we have choices in how we live.

Here is a simple example: Jean was out running errands today and stopped by just to say hello on her way to volunteer as a reading mentor at a local elementary school. She struck up a conversation with a woman who volunteers in the office twice a week. They share many experiences; retired teacher, mother of several, grandmother of many … Oh! And dedicated to being involved and having strong ties in their community.


Forward Chicago, an all-volunteer nonprofit organization, envisions our neighborhoods as model communities for people of all ages, where residents can age in place while remaining active, engaged and influential.

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