Civic engagement—voting, volunteering, social organizing and such activities—is essential for the health of democracy. And with primary elections beginning this month, people have the chance to improve the health of our country. People may also be interested to know that a turn at the ballot box might improve their physical and mental health.

In a study funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the RAND Corporation found substantial evidence that increases in civic engagement are linked to better health for individuals and whole communities. The findings hold across a variety of health outcomes: Higher civic engagement correlates to lower rates of cancer, heart disease and depression. Self-reported general health also tracks up and down with civic engagement across western developed countries.

A high level of civic engagement matters not just for individual health, but for creating community conditions that promote health, whether through safe and healthy housing, clean air, or safe and walkable streets. Indeed, early advancements in public health, such as the development of community sanitation systems, were propelled by a combination of science and civic action. Today, some health providers and insurers are using “social prescribing,” in which prescriptions are written for exercise, healthy foods, and upgrades to housing, to address the social factors that influence health.

Read the full article about civic engagement and public health by Christopher Nelson and Anita Chandra at RAND Corporation.