Are You Ignoring This Powerful Longevity Secret? How the “Roseto Effect” Can Help You Live Longer.

Back in the early 1960s, scientists made a fascinating discovery: People living in Roseto, Pennsylvania, were half as likely to die from a heart attack as folks from the neighboring town of Bangor [1].

Yet Roseto and Bangor were just 1.2 miles apart. They shared the same water supply, doctors, and hospitals. There was no difference between their citizens in smoking status, occupation, cholesterol, or socioeconomic class [2].

What’s more, when the researchers analyzed death records in three other nearby communities, they saw a similar trend. Deadly heart attacks in these towns were in line with national averages, but Roseto’s was “strikingly low” [1].

Here’s the kicker: Roseto residents weren’t what you’d call a picture of health. The scientists described them as obese and wrote that “the people eat a great deal and drink considerable alcohol,” and consume “substantially more calories and substantially more fat than the average American” [1].

So what’s responsible for the now famous “Roseto Effect”? And what can you learn from it to enhance your own well-being and longevity? You’re about to find out.

Inside the Curious Town of Roseto

To explain the “Roseto Effect,” it helps to know the history of Roseto. The town was settled in 1882 by immigrants from the town of—wait for it—Roseto, Valfortore, in southern Italy [1].

At the time of the study, Roseto’s population was still more than 95% Italian descent and practiced many of the traditional customs of their culture. These customs included first, second, and third generations living under the same roof, marriage within the community, a lack of class distinctions, and frequent socializing among residents. These folks were the epitome of tight-knit.

Bangor, on the other hand, was more diverse, with a mix of people from Germany, Wales, England, and Italy. These folks weren’t nearly as connected by culture or customs, and their social networks were less cohesive. In fact, when interviewing Bangor town leaders, the scientists were told, “People pull for themselves here” [2].

Can you see where this is going?

In Roseto, people didn’t pull for themselves; they pulled for each other. They felt a sense of togetherness and had deep, meaningful relationships. This created a protective environment that reduced stress and fostered emotional well-being. And researchers both then and now believe this is the cause of the “Roseto Effect.”

It might sound unbelievable that your social connections could have such a powerful effect on your health. But this idea isn’t unique to a small Pennsylvania town in the 1950s.

Similar findings have been observed in the so-called Blue Zones of Okinawa, Japan and Sardinia, Italy—where the longest-living people in the world reside—and also in Jackson, Mississippi, home to the Jackson Heart Study, the largest-ever investigation of cardiovascular disease among African Americans [3,4].

For instance, residents of Blue Zones are part of cohesive communities that regularly engage in communal meals, shared physical activities, and local events (you can learn more about this in my book Young Forever). This frequent social interaction helps reduce stress and improve mental health and is believed to significantly contribute to their longevity [5].

In the Jackson Heart Study, scientists have found that strong family and community ties—for example, through church involvement and neighborhood gatherings—help mitigate stress and decrease the risk of death and cardiovascular events (especially among women) [3,4].

All of which begs the question…

How can you tap into the Roseto Effect?

Good news: It starts with awareness. When you understand—and believe—that strong social bonds really matter, you may be more likely to seek them out.

But it also takes some effort. Just as eating well and regular exercise require you to take consistent action, so does strengthening relationships and building new social connections. Here are some ways to do just that:

Do volunteer work. This automatically connects you to folks who care deeply about the same things you do. Like animals better than people? Help out at a local dog or cat sanctuary. Chances are, you may find it easier to bond with a person who shares your love of animals. Plus, the act of volunteering itself can give you a stronger sense of purpose and belonging.

Join a group fitness or wellness class. Whether you love high-intensity workouts or prefer relaxing practices that calm your mind, there’s a group activity out there for you: Zumba, Crossfit, yoga, Orange Theory, barre, Soul Cycle, meditation, salt therapy, you name it. Just show up, and keep showing up. You’ll naturally begin to connect with class members over your shared experience.

Start a tradition around food. It could be a regular Sunday dinner with family. Tailgating before football games. Supper club with a group of friends. A monthly block party, barbecue, or potluck with your neighbors. As the saying goes, “Food brings people together.” Find a way to lean into that.

Pursue your passion. Or look to develop new skills. Take a photography, pottery-making, or cooking class. Attend a writer’s workshop, join a book club or sports league, or participate in community theater. These activities not only allow you to explore your interests but also create opportunities to meet people with similar passions. That makes it a fantastic way to broaden your social network through real-life connections.

Take that trip. You know, the one you always talk about with friends but never do. Here’s the reality: Every group needs a ringleader to make these things happen. Be that person. Propose a date and destination, and stay on it until you reach consensus. Then book reservations and organize the details. Make it easy on everyone else. The really cool part: It’s not just about bonding on the trip itself; you’ll start building excitement and camaraderie weeks ahead through group texts and planning sessions.

Practice random acts of kindness. Did you have a good memory of a friend today? Is there a colleague whose work you admire? Do you miss your sister or buddy or cousin who lives on the other side of the country? Take 30 seconds—or even better, 30 minutes—and let them know. The more you do this, the more it’ll come back to you. This is known as the law of reciprocity—your kindness and thoughtfulness will inspire others to reach out and do the same, creating a virtuous cycle of connection and support.

Go for an after-dinner walk. Remember how the Roseto residents spent time together, strengthening their social bonds? In Italy, people often take an evening stroll, known as “la passeggiata,” after dinner. The tradition isn’t about burning off calories; it’s about enjoying fresh air, enjoying time with loved ones, and socializing with neighbors. As an added bonus: Research shows that going for a walk within 30 minutes after a meal can significantly improve blood sugar and enhance metabolic health.

Remember: People are good for people.

So I hope this story inspires you to work on building stronger relationships and deeper social connections. Because as the “Roseto Effect” has shown us, these efforts don’t just lead to a more fun, interesting, and fulfilling life—they’re crucial for optimizing your overall health and well-being.

References

  1. Stout C, Marrow J, Brandt EN Jr, Wolf S. Unusually low incidence of death from myocardial infarction. Study of an Italian American community in Pennsylvania. JAMA. 1964 Jun 8;188:845–9.
  2. Bruhn JG, Chandler B, Miller MC, Wolf S, Lynn TN. Social aspects of coronary heart disease in two adjacent, ethnically different communities. Am J Public Health Nations Health. 1966 Sep;56(9):1493–506.
  3. Glover L, Sutton J, O’Brien E, Sims M. Social Networks and Cardiovascular Disease Events in the Jackson Heart Study. medRxiv. 2023 Mar 12.
  4. Lee HH, Okuzono SS, Trudel-Fitzgerald C, James P, Koga HK, Sims M, et al. Social integration and risk of mortality among African-Americans: the Jackson heart study. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2023 Sep;58(9):1317–27
  5. Buettner D, Skemp S. Blue Zones: Lessons From the World’s Longest Lived. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2016 Jul 7;10(5):318–21.
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