Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Go Bowling to Be Healthy

Huh??!! Go bowling to be healthy? Well, maybe it's not that simple. But here's the story:

Dr. Robert Putnam of Harvard University, wrote a book called "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community." The book is very heavy on statistics and I wouldn't recommend it if you're looking for a light and quick read. Let me tell you what I got out of it (I didn't read all of it either).

Possibly the most eye-opening catch phrase in the book says something about how if you're a smoker and you want to cut your chance of dying in half this year, you should either quit smoking or join a civic association (think: The Elks Club).


Let me back up a little bit. I'm interested in the concept of Social Capital, which "refers to connections among individuals -- social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them (Putnam)." Over the last several decades, social capital has declined very quickly and significantly. This is a big deal, and it's not just that we miss the good old days. "School performance, public health, crime rates, clinical depression, tax compliance, philanthropy, race relations, community development, census returns, teen suicide, economic productivity, campaign finance, even simple human happiness -- all are demonstrably affected by how (and whether) we connect with our family and friends and neighbors and co-workers."

To bring this back around to the bowling reference, Putnam talks about how people used to join bowling leagues, and now are significantly less likely to do so---they still might bowl but it's on an occasional basis where social bonds are not formed as deeply.

Low social capital leads to more depression, sickness, colds, cancer, stroke, heart attacks, and unexpected death in general.

What should you do? You don't have to join the Elks Club if you don't want to. You could go on a walk with a neighbor, or better yet, get together with neighbors and throw a block party. Turn off the TV and the Internet during your free time and do something more social. If you don't want to go out partying or socializing and schmoozing all the time, you don't have to (I'm pretty thankful for that---I love being home). Find the social connections you like, and just do those more. You don't have to have a million friends, just make sure the bonds you have with the ones you want are strong and that you interact meaningfully and casually with the people you care about on a regular basis.

This was a big boring book, but it had so many statistics that clearly proved this point, that it is certainly worth mentioning. Over the decades, technology, life pace increases, dual-career households, and more have impacted our time spent investing in social capital. The bottom line is that the value of social capital is undeniable. You can ignore it if you choose----but if you do ignore it, you might just want to quit smoking and improve your odds of survival :)

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