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The most important factor for your health

I read recently that science has proven that "the best way to improve long-term health isn't physical, it's social connection." Our 'social fitness' influences the brain and reduces the effects of chronic stress. In his book, The Good Life, psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, sums up eighty-plus years of data from the Harvard Study of Adult Development that shows the formula for health and happiness hinges on positive relationships.

When it comes to connection, quality is more important than quantity. Even if your circle is small, if those relationships are fulfilling, they have the potential to be healing. I can definitely relate.

This weekend I'm heading out for a weekend with the 'girls.' We still refer to ourselves as girls even in our 40s, because we've been friends since we were girls. I became a part of this friend group in high school, but the others have known each other even longer. Our friendship has remained strong throughout the decades.

We may not see each other more than every few years, but when we come together, it's like we haven't missed a beat. We all moved away from New Hampshire and now live in different states from the East to West coasts, and are all unique individuals, but going through those transformative years together has bonded us for life.

These are some of the most important relationships I have, and it lifts me up to spend time with these amazing ladies.

Even though humans are wired to connect, in a society where we're more technologically connected than any other time in history, more people than ever report feeling isolated. "Forty percent of older adults in the U.S. report chronic loneliness."

Exercise your social muscles before they atrophy.

What can you do to strengthen your social connections?

Start with taking an inventory of the relationships you have, and make an effort to set regular get togethers with the people who lift you up. If there's someone on the list who you haven't seen in awhile, reach out and get something on the calendar, even if it's a simple phone call.

While it's not as easy to make new friends as an adult as it was when we were younger, it's not impossible. Think about the things that you care about and like to do, and join a group or volunteer where you can interact with others who share your interests and hobbies. Firefly's yoga retreats are always a great place to meet others who value health and connection.

Get more comfortable interacting with others by striking up a conversation with a stranger. Simple things like saying thank you to someone for holding the door, or giving someone a compliment are a good start.

I'm looking forward to flexing my relationship muscles this weekend! What will you do this week to exercise your social fitness?

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