Share this article:

6 Surprising Health Benefits of Intentional Community Living

Published April 12, 2023
Written by Cynthia Tina

Discover the health benefits of intentional community living. Below are six ways that living in an ecovillage or cohousing can improve your well-being.

6 Health Benefits of Community Living

In recent years, intentional communities have gained in popularity as people seek alternatives to traditional ways of living. Intentional communities are defined as groups of people who live together, often with shared values, resources, and decision-making processes. These communities can take many forms, from ecovillages and cohousing to intentional neighborhoods and communes.

While intentional communities are often seen as a response to social and environmental issues, they also offer a range of health benefits that may surprise you. Here are six ways that intentional community living can improve your health and well-being.

Group enjoying lunch at La Cité Écologique community in New Hampshire
Group enjoying lunch at La Cité Écologique community in New Hampshire

1. Reducing social isolation

A distinct benefit of intentional community living is the reduction of social isolation. In traditional living situations, people may go days or even weeks without interacting with others. Loneliness can lead to depression, as well as other negative effects on both physical and mental health. 

Especially troubling is loneliness among older populations. According to the latest National Poll on Healthy Aging, one third of seniors are lonely. Thankfully, there are both +55 and intergenerational communities that can alleviate loneliness in a way that sets them apart from your average nursing home or assisted living facility.

In intentional communities, social isolation is much less common. Residents typically share common spaces, allowing for regular social interaction and group activities. This improves a sense of belonging and purpose.

Imagine if community living was the norm, instead of private, single-family homes in anonymous neighborhoods. Celebrated author Naomi Klein argues that our single-family housing model needs to be rethought.

She says:

Not only is it isolating — it’s an absurdly wasteful use of resources. Millions of us have noticed it: Without school or babysitters or grandparents to pick up the slack, just keeping everyone fed, sheltered, and possibly educated, while trying to do your job, takes pretty much every waking moment. If someone actually gets sick, with the virus or with something else serious, all bets are off. And that’s not just bad for us as individuals, it’s bad for society because it means we have less time to show up for our neighbors or to fully participate in a democracy that is hanging on by a thread.

—Naomi Klein
Health Benefits of Intentional Community Living:

2. Improving mental health

Living in an intentional community can have a positive impact on mental health. People who live in intentional communities report higher levels of life satisfaction, happiness, and well-being. This is likely due to the strong social support networks, shared values and goals, and reduced stress levels that are often present in intentional communities.

In addition, intentional communities tend to place an emphasis on personal growth and development. This can lead to greater self-awareness, self-acceptance, and a sense of purpose, all of which have positive effects on mental health.

Much more research is needed to look at the health benefits of intentional communities specifically. However, what research that has been done looks promising. 

Norwegian scientist Bjørn Grinde completed a happiness study on intentional communities in 2016, in partnership with the Foundation for Intentional Community.  

A key observation was that people in [intentional communities] reported to be very happy with their lives. Obviously, happiness is not as easy to probe as weight or body temperature. One accepted measure is based on questions of the type: “I am satisfied with my life”, where people respond on a scale from Strongly disagree (value 1) to Strongly agree (value 7). We used a set of five such questions (based on a strategy developed by the psychologist Ed Diener). The participants scored on average 5.4 (on a scale from 1-7 where 7 is the most happy). This is on par with the best results obtained in any population, and well above the typical response of North Americans.

—Bjørn Grinde
Biking at Silver Sage Village in Colorado
Biking at Silver Sage Village in Colorado

3. Increasing physical activity

Many intentional communities prioritize sustainable living practices, such as growing their own food and reducing their reliance on cars. This means residents are physically more active on a regular basis.

For example, living in an intentional community might involve walking or biking to work or shared spaces, gardening, and other varied activities. This has a range of health benefits, including reducing the risk of chronic diseases, improving cardiovascular health, and promoting overall fitness.

Regardless of whether the community is located in an urban or rural area, there are greater opportunities for movement. 

In urban areas, cohousing communities tend to be built within walking distance of schools, shops, and mass transit lines. For example, Daybreak Cohousing in Portland, Oregon features an on-site bike shop and bike parking area in the basement of one of the buildings. 

Rural communities often choose to cluster homes tightly together to leave more land available for recreation, as well as farming or wilderness. For example, Ecovillage at Ithaca, New York, has 175 acres of land, and 90% of it is green space devoted to organic farming and wildlife habitat, according to this 2022 article on the types of cohousing communities

Supporting healthy eating habits

4. Supporting healthy eating habits

In many intentional communities, residents share meals and resources, thus contributing to healthy eating habits. This involves growing their own food, cooking meals together, or sharing the cost of bulk purchases.

Sharing meals and resources provides a greater variety of healthy foods in the diet, and reduces food waste. In addition, communal eating can provide a sense of social connection and enjoyment, which can have positive effects on mental health.

In 2018, the news outlet Shareable invited readers to share their experiences of communal living. Healthy eating stood out among the responses:

Communal meals are a very important part of my living situation. It has been not only a socially benefiting part of living in a community, but has been cost effective and time saving. Living alone, I would not be able to afford (both in money and time) healthy meals almost daily. By buying groceries and cooking together in a vegetarian only space, I’ve been the healthiest I’ve ever been in terms of diet. My community has also been helpful in times of need. When someone is going through a time of stress or grief, there is a support system in place to take care of cleaning and cooking – not unlike one would receive when living with supportive immediate family.

—Gabrielle Tillenburg, Washington DC
Cob house at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in Missouri
Cob house at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in Missouri

5. Reducing environmental toxins

Intentional communities tend to prioritize sustainable living practices, such as reducing exposure to environmental toxins. For example, intentional communities may use non-toxic cleaning products, minimize the use of pesticides and herbicides, and prioritize natural building materials.

Reducing exposure to environmental toxins offers a range of health benefits, including mitigating the risk of chronic diseases, improving respiratory health, and promoting overall well-being.

While joining an intentional community usually involves renting or purchasing a pre-built home, some communities have opportunities for residents to build their own homes made primarily from natural materials. A resident of Tolstoy Farm Community shares her experience of building a strawbale home for under $5000 with the help of fellow community members:

People who want to learn natural building and eco-design are drawn to intentional communities and become willing helpers in a fun and nontoxic work-play endeavor. Women and children become active participants, gaining skill and expertise not encouraged in conventional construction. Those with artistic inclinations will find fulfillment in the malleability of earthly materials. Natural and eco-building can be less expensive, yet more labor intensive, than conventional construction.

—Laura Harris
Health Benefits of Intentional Community Living

6. Providing access to healthcare

Some intentional communities provide access to healthcare services.This is particularly valuable for people who live in rural or isolated areas. For example, there are intentional communities with on-site healthcare providers, or those that partner with local healthcare providers to offer discounted services to residents. 

This is especially true for intentional communities designed for seniors or people with special needs (such as Camphill Communities), as well as income-sharing communities part of the PEACH insurance program. Additionally, many retreat centers and wellness communities have a large number of practitioners living on-site or nearby, including yoga, acupuncture, and therapy providers.

Here is how Twin Oaks, an income-sharing community in rural Virginia, describes their health care system:

Once someone becomes a full member of the community, the community provides for all basic healthcare needs. Our Health Team oversees all health care issues, and we support both allopathic (“western”) medicine as well as alternative healing modalities, as our annual budget allows.

The community stocks all sorts of remedies for common problems — everything from aspirin to homeopathic remedies to tinctures made from our own herbs. We also provide some on-the-farm alternative care such as massage, reiki, etc. Because of our income-sharing, our members often qualify for state-subsidized health care at medical facilities in the area. Sometimes it will happen that we have a member who is a health-care practitioner, and to the extent that person is qualified and willing to treat members, that can be an option for those members who feel comfortable with it. We are also part of a larger mutual aid health care program for intentional communities.

Having access to healthcare services can improve overall health outcomes and reduce the risk of serious health problems. It can also provide peace of mind for residents, knowing that they have access to healthcare services if and when they need them.

—Twin Oaks Community
Health Benefits of Intentional Community Living

More Health Benefits of Intentional Community Living

In conclusion, intentional community living offers a range of surprising health benefits, from reducing social isolation and improving mental health to promoting physical activity, healthy eating habits, and access to healthcare services. While intentional communities are not for everyone, they offer a unique and rewarding way to live that prioritizes social connection, sustainability, and personal growth. 

If you or a loved one are considering intentional community living, there is a community matchmaking and coaching service designed to make the process easier, saving you time and stress as you explore the options for your next home. 

What do you think are other health benefits of intentional community living? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

SHARE THIS POST:

0 Comments
Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Cynthia Tina

Hi! I’m Cynthia.

I’ve visited 150+ intentional communities — ecovillages, cohousing, coops, spiritual, permaculture, & more types of community. I created CommunityFinders to help you on your community journey. How is your journey going? How can I help?

Discover which type of intentional community is a fit for you.

FIND A COMMUNITY TO JOIN

You can find a home filled with neighbors who share your values. Learn about our coaching program to get you there.

START A NEW COMMUNITY

You can launch a new intentional community with the help of fellow founders, skills, and resources offered in our membership program.

VISIT COMMUNITIES

Have you ever dreamed of traveling to inspirational communities and ecovillages? Now you can with Ecovillage Tours.

10 Reasons to Choose to Live in an Intentional Community

10 Reasons to Choose to Live in an Intentional Community

In a world where isolation and disconnection are becoming the norm, intentional community living offers a refreshing alternative. Imagine a lifestyle where happiness, security, and sustainability are built into the very fabric of your living environment. From shared...