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Voting Counts as a Healthy Habit

Voting may pay off in terms of mental and physical health benefits.

WebMD Feature

A vote for your favorite candidate may also be a vote for your good health.

Researchers say expressing your right to vote may help promote good mental health and, in turn, good physical health, but some people will likely benefit from voting more than others.

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"In a close election, like this one, the sense that you can make a difference becomes more pronounced. After 2000, people are thinking that their vote may actually count," says Lynn Sanders, PhD, associate professor of politics at the University of Virginia. "That transforms the act of voting to one that is more like the act of protest or fighting."

When you believe you're doing something that could make your life better, that's where the psychological benefits come in, says Sanders, and all of the additional physical benefits attributed to voting are connected to those mental health benefits.

Admittedly, researchers say voting and better health are not directly related. For example, casting your vote on Nov. 2 is not going to lower your cholesterol or cure cancer.

But there are several studies that show being a politically active member of a democratic society can benefit your health in ways beyond determining the government's role in the health care system.

Voting Provides Mental and Physical Health Benefits

The usual health advice comes in the form of familiar phrases like "take this pill," "eat more fruits and vegetables," or "figure out a way to reduce your stress."

But psychologist Marc Zimmerman says part of the overall picture of good health is to learn how you can empower yourself so you can have some control over the things in life that are under your control, such as voting.

"Engaging in the community is a part of that, and voting is a part of that," says Zimmerman, who is a professor at the University of Michigan's School of Health.

Voting may also provide bigger health benefits to those most at risk.

Sanders recently completed a study that shows voting may help ease the psychological stress and other mental health problems that stem from being economically, politically, or socially disadvantaged.

"I think that people who are on the wrong sides of the disadvantage divide, measured according to anything -- health, income, quality of community, or job status -- those are the people who stand to benefit most," says Sanders.

Her study also shows that voting and being engaged in the political process can reduce the risk of future psychological problems, especially among those with a history of depression.

Sanders says psychologists have long linked community involvement with psychological well-being, and her study supports that notion. But she says the combative nature of politics may actually be more beneficial to mental health for those who have the most to gain.

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