Power in Numbers: 15 Group Activities That Are Good for Your HealthLizzie Heiselt
I recently spent an evening sitting on a rooftop with a dozen friends, celebrating the impending births of a couple of babies and eating an assortment of dark chocolate. It was one of the first chilly nights of the season and kind of windy, especially up on the roof, but we couldn’t tear ourselves away from the hours of good conversation in which we could actually finish a sentence because there were no children present. Eventually, however, the party broke up as husbands texted to let their wives know their babies were awake and needing to nurse, or the cold finally penetrated our jackets, or the long days from the first week of school caught up to us.
I left the party wishing we could somehow stop time every week to cloister ourselves away from kids and chores, e-mails and phones. Time spent with friends feels like such a luxury at this time in my life, when nap times and school pickup eat up so much of my day. If only I could stop life for just a few hours a week to regroup and reconnect with those women who keep me sane when I’m losing my head, who watch my children in an emergency, who support me in my endeavors and inspire me with their own accomplishments, certainly I would be a much happier, healthier person.
Yeah, that would be pretty awesome.
Then again, does life have to stop so you can squeeze in some friend-time? Certainly not! There are lots of ways to reap the benefits of friendship on a daily basis without retreating to the rooftops to do it. Click through for 15 group activities that can help you connect with your friends on a daily basis and become a better person for it.
Better Together 1 of 16
You can lead a healthy life all on your own, but it's ever so much more fun when you bring a friend along!
Start a Running Group 2 of 16
I can think of few things better than starting the day by 1.) getting some exercise and 2.) talking with friends. Doing both at the same time is next to nirvana. Not only do I reap the physical benefits of running, I get to flex my social muscles, too. And, invariably, I finish my run feeling even more energized and ready to tackle the day. In fact, group-based exercise has been shown to improve accountability and consistency, making you more likely to reap both physical and social benefits.
Join a Book Club 3 of 16
So many times I've finished a book and thought, "I need to talk about this with someone!" Book clubs make sure you have that opportunity. And not only do you get to explore the deep themes and character flaws of someone else's (possibly fictional) life, you can do it in the company of those who know the deep themes and character flaws of your own life and love you anyway.
Cook Together 4 of 16
Can there really be too many cooks in the kitchen? Okay, probably, but I tell you, it's so much better to be making dinner for a crowd with a crowd than by yourself. Chopping apples or pitting cherries are really not jobs to be tackled without the distraction of good conversation and someone to laugh with when you splatter cherry juice all over the wall for the fourth time in a row. Not to mention the fact that home-cooked meals are generally more balanced and healthful than either restaurant fare or packaged food. (Bonus!)
Eat Together 5 of 16
A shared table is a shared life. Not only does sitting down to eat with others promote healthier food choices, but it is the perfect time to connect and share a part of each other's life. Whether you plan a potluck or meet up at a restaurant, eating with friends brings happiness that will last long after the dishes are cleared.
Volunteer Together 6 of 16
It wasn't too long ago that some friends and I gathered to make menstrual kits for one of our friends to take on a trip to Africa. Other times we've demolished houses ruined by hurricanes. Once we painted benches in a nearby park. The joy of working and serving others is doubled (at least!) when you get to do it with some of your favorite people.
Volunteering has a myriad of benefits all on its own from fighting depression to lowering blood pressure but add in a social aspect and you increase the health benefits even more.
Schedule Playdates 7 of 16
Playdates are just as much for the moms as they are for the kids, right? While my kids love playing with their friends, I love it almost as much for the chance I have to chat with other moms and work through some of our biggest parenting struggles together. Plus giving kids time to play together gives me a reprieve from being their main source of interaction.
Start a Babysitting Co-op 8 of 16
Going out on dates with your spouse is a lot easier if you have a community to support you in that endeavor. Swapping babysitting gives you that support. Not only do you get some time alone with your spouse, but you can give that support to others as well. Filling people's needs and being needed: that's what friendships are for and how communities are built. The social support you get from such arrangements can help manage stress, combat loneliness, and help increase feelings of security and self-worth which is invaluable for you and your family.
Write Letters 9 of 16
Want to start a really healthy habit? Start writing yes, handwriting letters to your friends. Take the time to sit down, unplugged, and tell them how grateful you are for them and what you love about them it's been shown to increase your own feelings of well-being, not to mention the benefit it will provide to your friends! This is an especially great habit to practice during those inevitable times when a friend is struggling. Getting a real letter in the mail is sure to boost her spirit, and being able to keep it tucked away in a drawer to read again and again is a pretty priceless gift.
Join a Choir or a Band 10 of 16
Keeping music in your life has some pretty nice health benefits, from reducing anxiety to treating depression. But harmonizing with your friends in a choir or jamming together on the piano or a guitar (or whatever instrument you like!) can make it feel like hard times will come again no more.
Maintain a Garden 11 of 16
Digging in the dirt is just as fun for adults as it is for kids. What makes it more fun is that not only can you plant your favorite veggies together which promotes healthy eating you get to share the bounty of the harvest, too. And research reveals gardening is connected to lower BMIs and higher levels of life satisfaction. So in the hot days of summer when you're on your hands and knees pulling up weeds, at least you'll know your life is better for it, and you get to share the experience with your besties. Hopefully it makes the time feel like it's passing by more quickly, even if it still takes you all morning to do.
Take a Group Fitness Class 12 of 16
The friends who sweat together stay together, right? But seriously, when I'm suffering through my third minute of plank exercises, I sure do want the person on the next mat to be someone who I can laugh about my weakness with afterward. Actually, I'm not sure I'd even suffer through three minutes of planks if I didn't have a friend there to suffer with/offer moral support.
Take a Cooking Class 13 of 16
Not sure what to do with all those veggies you harvested from your garden? Maybe it's time to take a cooking class with the person who thought it was a good idea to plant kohlrabi. Of course, it doesn't have to be cooking; any skill will do. Try your hand at knitting, cake decorating, photography. Learning new skills is not only a surefire path to long-lasting happiness, it's less intimidating when you've got a friend by your side.
Travel Together 14 of 16
Whether it's a ladies' only trip with your high school besties or a double-family vacation with your neighbors down the street, taking a vacation with friends can not only make the trip more fun, more relaxing, and more exciting it can boost your creativity and your productivity when you get back home. And you get to spend time with your friends without the everyday stresses of errands to run, meals to prepare, or appointments to keep.
Commute or Carpool Together 15 of 16
In most places this will give you the chance to ride in the carpool lane and get you where you're going faster. It'll also take a car off the road so there is (at least a little bit) less pollution. But the real benefit is the chance to connect with a friend, listen to music or NPR together, and discuss the complexities of life while cruising down the road together. Plus commuting with a friend can help negate some of the physical and mental stresses of being on the road.
Go Camping 16 of 16
Aside from the practicalities of camping with friends it's nice to have someone who knows their way around a campfire to do the cooking and someone to borrow a flashlight from when you've forgotten yours being in the outdoors, staring at the stars, and roasting marshmallows is the stuff that memories (and better health) are made of. The things you share as you sit around the campfire in the dark can bring out stories, thoughts, and feelings that can't come out in the light of day or in your normal environment, easing stress and increasing your sense of belonging.
all images via istockphoto.com