Jewish World Review April 11, 2003 / 9 Nisan, 5763

BODYLESSONS: Putting friendships on the back burner may hurt your health

By Judi Sheppard Missett | Scientific evidence is emerging of the importance of friendships to our general health. Individuals with a supportive network of friends are less likely to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or high blood sugar, according to the school of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. Another study at UCLA indicates that interaction with friends keeps your mind sharp.

Unfortunately, many modern-day pressures make maintaining friendships a low priority for women. The responsibilities of careers and family, combined with the distance that often separates friends today, make it difficult to carve out time to nurture these important relationships. In addition, the "superwoman'' syndrome of the 1980s and 1990s has prevented many women from reaching out to others when they could use a hand -- something we did much more readily in decades past. Together these subtle societal changes may be taking a toll on our health.

But you can hold on to valuable friendships, and gain all the benefits they offer, by using the following ideas:

Make an extra effort to stay in touch. Write reminders on your calendar to call friends, to plan a get-together or to visit one of your former social hot spots, whether it's the neighborhood sewing club, fitness class or pub.

Set up a perpetual get-together -- a monthly potluck dinner and book club, a weekly movie night, bike ride or hike. With a set time and date, your time with friends won't fall by the wayside.

Use e-mail to stay in touch. When distance makes face-to-face meetings impossible, connect with one another through quick e-mails that share tidbits about your day. With today's technology, you can instantly send pictures and greeting cards.

When you need some help, pick up the phone and call a friend or neighbor. You'd be surprised how many people would be happy to lend a hand. After all, if you received a call from a friend, wouldn't you be eager to help if you could?

Make a list of the most important people in your life outside of your immediate family. Then commit to making contact with them at least twice a year, more often if they live close and if your schedule allows.

Work out together. Exercise is something you need on a regular basis. Why not do it as a group? You can begin a fitness program with current friends, or join a class or health club and make new ones. Working out with friends can keep you motivated and make exercise more enjoyable.

Try adding this lunge step to your other favorite dance moves for a 20- to 30-minute cardiovascular workout. Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and your toes slightly turned out. Take a step to your right as you move into a small lunge, reaching your arms to the right and turning your shoulders slightly to the right as well. Press up out of the lunge, and stretch your legs, lifting tall and reaching your arms further to the right.

Repeat the movements to other side, and continue alternating eight to 10 times until you are ready to switch to another move. The down-up motion will work your leg muscles and increase the intensity of this movement. Be sure to keep your shoulders relaxed throughout your workout, and tighten your abdominal muscles to support your lower back.

Judi Sheppard Missett is CEO of Jazzercise Inc., an international aerobic-dance instruction company. Comment by clicking here.


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