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5 Secrets to a Longer Life

Join the Friends-and-Family Plan

A strong network of family and friends is essential for good health. Women who have six or more positive social experiences a week -- lunch with their spouse, a heart-to-heart with a trusted coworker, a phone chat with a good friend -- live a year longer than women with fewer, according to Terry Grossman, M.D., a family practitioner in Lakewood, Colorado, and author of The Baby Boomers' Guide to Living Forever. But bad family relationships can boost a woman's heart-disease risk.

Good relationships with your family and friends not only boost immunity but also may help you respond to stress in healthier ways. "If you've got a problem and you call your sister instead of eating a pound of chocolate, that's better for your health and your waistline, and ultimately for your heart-disease risk as well," says David Fein, M.D., medical director of the Princeton Longevity Center, in New Jersey.

But for moms, staying in touch can be a challenge. Life is cyclic, and relationships can get out of whack. Your best friend gets really busy in a new job. Your husband suddenly has to travel more for work. Or you move to a new town miles away from your network of friends.

Instead of letting things slide, make adjustments and find new ways to stay connected:

Make quick phone calls. Touch base with your friends during the week -- just long enough to keep up.

Use e-mail, and send along some digital photos!

Schedule dates with friends on the calendar. If it's an appointment, there's a better chance you'll actually keep it.

Call the babysitter to see if she's available on Saturday night, when your husband's back in town.

"When I had my first child, I created tremendous stress for myself by thinking I could do it all," says Andrea Antonucci of Malden, Massachusetts, a mom of four kids, ages 2 to 7. She was the first of her friends and siblings to have a child, but once her sister and some of her friends had babies, she became part of a network of mothers who helped one another smooth out those trying moments. "They're the first ones I call in an emergency or when I have a question or want to talk about anything, however frivolous."

She's also learned to lean on her parents and in-laws to keep her life balanced. "I no longer take offense when they give advice about mothering -- and I say yes when they volunteer to watch the kids so I can, say, go out and just get a haircut. That's a huge help in keeping me calm and in control."