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girlfriendsjpgExperts say maintaining personal connections is a key component of staying younger as we grow old.

Are we so busy that we are aging faster than we know? Hurrying up to get the kids ready for school, baseball & piano practice, homework and then off to bed.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the average life expectancy in the United States is 78.7 years. If you are reading this, chances are you are probably close, if not past, the halfway mark of your life. Kind of scary to think about, isn’t it?

Time is such a valuable commodity. Between family and work, we often find little time for others things in life. According to the Mental Health Foundation, friendship is a crucial element in protecting our mental health. We may talk to friends in confidence about things we wouldn’t discuss with our families. Our friends can keep us grounded and can help us get things in perspective. Unfortunately, due to the busyness of life, our friendships often get neglected.

Sustainability matters for a long, healthy life. Dr. Dean Ornish, a pioneer in reversing heart disease, notes that no other factor in medicine – ”not diet, not smoking, not exercise, not stress, not genetics, not drugs, not surgery – has a greater effect on how often we get sick than the healing power of love.”  Thus, having a strong social network is good for our heart and soul.

If you are used to having a jam-packed schedule, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Do my friends complain about unreturned calls and emails?
  2. Do I dread to have lunch or dinner because it cuts into my productivity or family time?
  3. Am I out-of-touch with my friends?

If you answered yes to these questions, you may have been ignoring your friends to focus on work or family. Life doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing situation.

Sometimes being very busy is temporary. It could just be a certain stage of life you are navigating through such as going to school, having a new baby, transitioning to a new job, moving or caring for a sick family member.

Some find it harder to forge meaningful friendships after age 30. People’s priorities change. In your 20s, you and your friends go to bars and meet people. While in your 30s, you focus on your career, home life and kids.

So how can we find the time to maintain key relationships outside the family unit in a meaningful way? Here are a few ways to foster more personal connections in your life:

  • Join a class, organization or volunteer. Look for opportunities in your local community, church, professional group or volunteer with like-minded people.
  • Overcome your fear of rejection. It can happen. Some people will be receptive while others are not. Focus on the ones who seem receptive. You may run into them at the market a few times and they may become a friendly face.
  • Be open to all types of friends. An elderly neighbor may have some fun recipes, stories and advice.
  • Use social media to connect with like-minded people in your area.
  • Social media is a great tool to keep up with old friends. Skype or FaceTime can keep it more personal.
  • Send a text to let your old friend know that you are thinking of him/her and that you value his/her friendship.
  • Use social media to schedule a reunion/lunch for a month or two in advance. It will give you something to look forward to and it will heighten your mental outlook.
  • When you meet with your friends, try to put down your cell phone. Nothing says you’re not that important than taking a phone call or checking messages while your friend is sitting at the table.
  • Mentor a younger person. You may know more than you realize. Invest in your community one person at a time.

We are all looking forward to a long, happy and fulfilling life. Why not make meeting people and maintaining friendships a priority? Even if it means scheduling it a month or so in advance. By paying more attention to your friends, you will maintain valuable relationships and those lifelong friends will always be there when you need them the most.

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