How many friends do you have?

You may want to have a good answer to this question lined up, because if your doctor isn't already asking it, he or she may start soon. According to researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, your social circles are as important to your health as diet and exercise.

Good friendships help you stay healthy at any age.

Researchers evaluated data from four U.S. population surveys on social integration, social support, and social strain. They then compared the social relationships to blood pressure, waist circumference, body mass index, and systematic inflammation—four key markers for mortality risk. The team's results, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, not only back up past research directly linking social circles to longer life in old age, but they linked social circles to good health in early and middle adulthood as well.

Apparently, social isolation in young adulthood can increase inflammation risk as much as physical inactivity! And in old age, social isolation can be more damaging than diabetes when it comes to hypertension. These results are reason enough for us all to take a moment and evaluate our social life.

When it comes to your friends, go for quality over quantity.

In middle adulthood, the strength of social connections—not the size of the social network—was a greater predictor of good health, and the quality of social relationships mattered over quantity. "Based on these findings, it should be as important to encourage adolescents and young adults to build social relationships and social skills for interacting with others as it is to eat healthy and be physically active," sociology professor Kathleen Harris says in the study.

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Having the charisma to attract a large social circle doesn't always come naturally. But don't worry, here's an exercise to help you embody the attractive mannerisms and reserved energy of a magnetic personality. Try it out at your next social gathering!

  1. Think of a person with strong magnetic qualities. The person could be any man or woman you know or have seen on TV, perhaps even an imagined person. Consider what characteristics of this person you would most like to emulate and instill in your own habits.
  2. Next, enter a heightened awareness of yourself. Focusing especially on the relaxed stillness of your facial and body muscles.
  3. Now imagine yourself and the role model you selected in front of you. Notice posture, the confident voice and walk, and other qualities you admire. Notice the dynamic magnetic qualities of the role model and any behaviors or thoughts you have that might detract from your confidence. Imagine shoring up the leakages of your energy by establishing new habits of living that foster these magnetic qualities.
  4. When the image of you is right, affirm it. Make it a conscious choice and step into it.
  5. Fully experience this new character through all your senses. Project yourself into a near future situation in which you rehearse how well you demonstrate the qualities you have gained.

It's normal to get nervous when socializing, so you can do this exercise any time you're about to enter a social situation. A dramatic change may be short-lived at first, but your body and mind will get the message, and your magnetic personality will continue to blossom with some practice.



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