Patriotism and happiness may be linked to overall health

The Fourth of July is a favorite holiday for many people. Unlike the stress that comes with Thanksgiving and other holidays, such as relatives and in-laws visiting, gift shopping and traveling, the Fourth of July is generally a three-day weekend that screams fun and relaxation.

While celebrating the birth of our country, it is known for time off work, barbecues, swimming and gathering with your favorite people, the ones we choose to be with rather than feel obligated to be with. It drives up the happiness scale.

Being happy is part of being healthy. And while psychologists report that depression affects the immune system, increases the rate of diabetes and increases our risk of experiencing a cardiac event by three times, happiness has been correlated with improved health. Barbecuing, swimming and hanging out with good friends raises the happiness scale a notch or two. But some research even suggests that pure patriotism and waving the flag might be linked to happiness.

A Gallup poll conducted on people in 128 countries and reported in Psychological Science found that the more satisfied people are with their country, the happier they are with their lives.

Respondents were polled about income, job satisfaction and opinions on their life and country. The association was particularly strong for people with low incomes and those living in poorer nations. Another study found that regardless of ethnicity, civic pride was most linked to a general feeling of well-being. Maybe it’s tied to a sense of belonging, similar to cheering on our favorite sports team or being part of a walking group or bingo club.

Born on an Air Force base in North Africa and raised in a military family, I knew the value of patriotism and love for my country. It’s not about politics. It’s not about candidates in office or conflicts related to war, economy or health care. It’s about connecting with fellow Americans and that feel-good teardrop I always get when they play “the Star-Spangled Banner” before a baseball game or when an Olympian stands on the podium and the crowd shouts, “U-S-A! U-S-A!”

Where are America’s most patriotic cities? In a poll conducted in 2011, Portland, Ore., was No. 1 on the list. So how do you gauge patriotism? It’s not easy. This poll was based on percentage of registered voters who turned out for state and federal elections, money spent on military veterans per capita, percentage of residents who volunteer, participate in civic activities or work with neighbors, and sales of fireworks and/or U.S. flags.

The American Fitness Index data report is a scientific snapshot of the state of health and fitness at the metropolitan level. It reports which cities are healthy. Ironically, the four cities that made the top patriotic list also made the top healthy cities list released last month. Is there really an association between patriotism, happiness and health? Maybe so, but Las Vegas is No. 39, the same score as last year. We are not improving, and we’re just one away from making the top 10 cities rated worst in health and fitness in America.

So Las Vegas, maybe you should try being a little more patriotic. Do you fly the stars and stripes in your front yard? If you do, you might be a little happier than your neighbors. If not, maybe you should. Let’s show some patriotism and wave our flag for the rest of the month. It might make you a little bit happier and improve your overall health.

Annie R. Lindsay is an associate professor and exercise physiologist at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She conducts research and programming in adult fitness, physical activity, body image and obesity prevention. Contact her at lindsaya@unce.unr.edu.

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