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The root of our health and sense of well-being may just be a loving connection with others

A Pennsylvania physician faced a mystery in 1961. His patients in Roseto had no heart attacks in spite of those Italian immigrants loving their jugs of wine, their salami and cheese, their food fried in lard and their unfiltered cigars.

Researchers descended to solve the mystery. They found a town whose motto seemed to be "We are in this together."

The houses were all modest and there was no way to guess who had money. Each house had three generations living together.

The front porches hugged the sidewalk which made for easy visiting on nightly strolls. All participated in church and social functions.

The researchers found no genetic or physical reason for the resistance to heart disease. They concluded that strong social support decreased the stress and inflammation that leads to heart disease. People were healing people.

A few years ago I was jogging daily, eating a Mediterranean diet, and deeply involved in the social structure of a small Midwestern town. I crossed a street in a nearby city and saw a car speeding toward me. I tried to run but was hit full force. I looked down to see my foot hanging at an impossible angle and my arm shortened and incredibly painful.

One moment of mayhem led to months of housebound immobility. I could not jog. I depended on my husband's cooking and, trust me, it was not the Mediterranean diet.

I could not write because my dominant arm was inoperative. I could not read because my mind was suffering "brain fog" wherein I had a short attention span and fell asleep each time my mind worked on a problem.

What I did have was my husband and community. Bob placed me on the living room couch each morning and opened the front door so that any person passing by was free to enter. And in they came.

A constant flow of visitors brought strawberries from their gardens, meals, flowers, books, but mostly conversation and laughter.

I often cried at the overwhelming love I felt. Still, I worried that I was gaining weight and taking years off my life. When I finally approached the scale, I knew I had a strong sense of well-being but what would the scale say? I had not gained weight! I marveled at the number and wondered if I was substantiating the findings of the Roseto Study.

The descendants of the Roseto group have adopted modern ways like the rest of us. They've now reached the national average on number of heart attacks.

They live in suburbs with fences. Most of their friends are on Facebook with no physical connection. Their brains are being rewired by smartphones that they constantly check. So a visit with no agenda seems boring.

When they enter a restaurant, they choose a seat far from others. Recent research validates the concerning effects of our present behaviors. I am seriously reassessing these behaviors in myself.

Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet, has a phrase "Maybe you are searching in the branches for what can only be found in the roots." The root of our health and sense of well-being may just be a loving connection with others. Let us root ourselves in community in the New Year. 

Cherie Dupuis is a member of the Jottings Group at The Lake Oswego Adult Community Center. 

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