Your home and its location can impact your health.

Your home and its location can impact your health.

How Your Home Can Impact Your Heart Health


They say home is where the heart is. But can a person’s home also play a role in how healthy that heart is?

A large body of research suggests it can. Experts say housing – where homes are located and if a person has one at all – can make a major contribution to cardiovascular health, impacting numerous risk factors as well as a person’s access to the resources needed to maintain good heart health.

“The environment you live in affects the risk factors you develop, and those risk factors can accumulate and affect your health down the road,” says Dr. Boback Ziaeian, an assistant professor of medicine in the cardiology division of the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Your ZIP code is far more predictive of cardiovascular risk than any type of genetic predisposition.

The Multilayered Problem of Housing and Heart Health

Various factors associated with housing can influence cardiovascular health. These factors include access to doctors and health care facilities, exposure to daily stressors like violence, pollution, and discrimination, attitudes toward health-promoting behaviors, educational and economic opportunities, and the overall neighborhood environment. Dr. Mario Sims, a professor of social medicine, population and public health at the University of California, Riverside School of Medicine, describes it as a “multilayered problem.”

Unfortunately, factors outside a person’s control can limit their housing options, leading to health disparities associated with income and race. A 2020 scientific statement by the American Heart Association emphasizes the importance of housing for cardiovascular health and well-being. It highlights housing stability, quality and safety, affordability and accessibility, and neighborhood environment as crucial determinants.

Structural racism and discriminatory practices like redlining, which historically made it harder for Black people to own homes and kept them segregated in neighborhoods with fewer resources, contribute to poor cardiovascular health and higher mortality rates. A study published in Circulation in 2014 found that neighborhood-level racial segregation leads to a 12% higher risk of cardiovascular disease in Black individuals compared to their white peers.

The consequences of being segregated away from primary care facilities extend to limited access to medical care and treatment. Living in a lower-income neighborhood also affects a person’s educational and employment opportunities, which in turn influences their earning power. Studies have shown that Black and Hispanic families are more likely than white people to live in low-income neighborhoods, which face higher cardiovascular risks. Socioeconomic status plays a significant role, as a recent study in Scientific Reports discovered a decrease in the risks for diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, heart failure, stroke, and mortality as socioeconomic status rises.

Neighborhoods and Cardiovascular Risk Factors

Neighborhood characteristics play a significant role in shaping cardiovascular risk factors. Living in a poor neighborhood with limited resources can lead to a more sedentary lifestyle, increase the risks for obesity, and contribute to a lack of physical activity. Poor neighborhoods may lack sidewalks, making it challenging for residents to walk around and exercise safely.

Additionally, racially segregated neighborhoods can influence a person’s exposure to attitudes about the healthcare system. Historical events like the U.S. Public Health Service’s Tuskegee syphilis study, which misled Black men participating and withheld a proven treatment, may create distrust in the medical community for those growing up in predominantly Black neighborhoods.

Attitudes about healthy behaviors are also influenced by the people with whom one shares a home and neighborhood. Value systems within these communities can indirectly influence behaviors like exercise, healthy eating, regular doctor visits, and adherence to medications. Smoking, a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, is more prevalent in lower-income neighborhoods.

“When people are socially marginalized and under a lot of strain, they tend to pick up unhealthy habits,” says Dr. Ziaeian.

Overcoming Health Disparities

Though it may be more difficult while living in neighborhoods with fewer resources, there are steps individuals can take to reduce their risk for cardiovascular disease. Research has consistently shown that maintaining a healthy diet, engaging in regular physical activity, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, getting enough sleep, and controlling blood pressure, blood glucose, and cholesterol levels are all crucial for improving and maintaining good cardiovascular health.

However, eradicating cardiovascular health disparities related to housing requires broad policy changes that address income distribution, housing stability, education, and neighborhood safety, among other factors. Dr. Sims emphasizes the need for systemic change to reduce the risk of heart disease, acknowledging that it will take time. “We didn’t get into it overnight, and we can’t get out of it overnight.”

In conclusion, your home plays a significant role in your heart health. Housing location, quality, stability, and affordability have an impact on various cardiovascular risk factors and access to essential resources. Addressing housing-related health disparities requires comprehensive policy changes to create equitable opportunities for all individuals to maintain good cardiovascular health. By understanding the multilayered problems associated with housing and promoting positive changes, we can work towards a society where everyone has a fair chance at a healthy heart.

American Heart Association News covers heart and brain health. Not all views expressed in this story reflect the official position of the American Heart Association. Copyright is owned or held by the American Heart Association, Inc., and all rights are reserved.

By Laura Williamson, American Heart Association News