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Health, Stuff, The Mind

Don’t forget to vote: it’s good for body and mind

Voting is importantWaiting for the general election has been a bit like waiting for Christmas. The hype keeps building but the big day never seems to arrive. Rather than greetings cards, however, ‘vote for me’ flyers have been piling up on the door mat. And instead of wall-to-wall seasonal specials, television viewing has been nonstop politics. Come May 7th, few of us will expect to be unwrapping gifts and digging into turkey, however. But taking a visit to the polling station could be just the thing for leaving you feeling warm and fuzzy inside.

It sounds absurd, but the mere act of putting a cross in a box could lead to an improvement in mental – and possibly physical – health. Research now tells us that there is a clear link between how much we participate in politics and in our community and our health. Having an opinion on issues, exercising our right to vote, and taking some kind of positive action seems to offer protection from depression. It needn’t be tying yourself to a tree in protest over a new bypass; experiments show that sending a letter or email to an official about a political issue does the job. And people who are already distressed or under a lot of strain are set to gain the most from such simple actions. Green activists take note: swampy-style tunnel-digging exploits have not been linked to improved wellbeing (although you might get very fit doing it).

All too often, voting is seen as something that ‘should be done’. Official surveys show that, today, civic duty and habit are the two key motivators for going to the polling booth. More depressing than that is the finding that the majority of 16-25 year olds have no intention of voting at all next week.

Standing on his soapbox, expert in adolescent wellbeing and psychology Prof Marc Zimmerman insists that voting – regardless of who it is for – can help children. He says that chatting about voting and politics can “help kids become better critical thinkers and help parents build communication patterns with their kids.” And ultimately, children who are more engaged with their community are statistically less likely to be involved in crime and drug use.

Whether or not you agree with any of the politicians, it’s worth considering showing up to vote on health grounds alone. Getting a psychological boost can make a real difference in physical health and can ease the symptoms of many long term ailments, such as the pain of fibromyalgia. We really ought to see our right to vote differently. A vote for anyone is a vote for your health. Now there’s a simple manifesto.

Thanks for reading – all opinions expressed are my own. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below.

Photo Credit: FutUndBeidl via Compfight cc

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About Stuart Farrimond

I love writing about science and health subjects. Strange, because I also teach the same things. I trained as a medical doctor before turning my hand to other things. Shortlisted for The Guardian/Observer for Science Writer of the Year 2011 and editor for Guru Magazine I also like to grow large pumpkins...

Discussion

2 thoughts on “Don’t forget to vote: it’s good for body and mind

  1. “It’s good to vote you say”, and I would agree, as long as there is something to vote FOR. It seems to me that politics the new Opiate of the Masses. Does it make us feel like we are “in charge” of our destiny? Perhaps it did in the days when we believed the sun revolved around the earth, but surely this “one (wo)man, one vote, once” is a thing of the past?

    “Once” in the sense of once every five years. In other words, I get to influence my country policies less than a dozen times in my life (assuming I start voting at 18, die at 74 and there is an election every 5 years).

    It would be somewhat better if politicians did what they say they would, but they don’t, and maybe they can’t, but waiting five years for a change is a (twelfth) lifetime. Imagine buying a faulty fridge and having to wait five years to change it?

    Democracy is a bit like football. There is the technology to improve the decision making of ‘the game’, but those in power seem quite content with the way things have always worked.

    Many sports have used video for years, while football is only getting round to it now. Meanwhile, politicians, despite their power, apparently haven’t been able to figure out a better way of listening to the country than a single question asked every five years, the answer to which they can ignore if they wish.

    Voting is good for you? I guess the five minute walk to the polling station would double my weekly exercise…

    Posted by Boris | May 3, 2015, 2:06 pm
    • Thanks for commenting Boris (surely no relation?).

      Interesting points. I certainly wouldn’t dare try to defend the political systems of today. The research referred to in this piece shows that taking part in a democratically-run society (through voting and other means) has a net benefit. Of course, this does not mean that every single person who performs the act of casting a vote will always gain benefit from it. (I’m getting that you would choose not to vote?!)

      It is recognised that deliberately spoiling your ballot paper (or voting ‘none’) is a way to voice your dissatisfaction with the selection of candidates: see http://www.votenone.org.uk/

      Out of interest, are you suggesting it would be better if we did away with one person-one vote system of democracy?

      Posted by Stuart Farrimond | May 5, 2015, 9:17 pm

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