By Erika, Pure Matters

My husband once told me that one of the things that attracted him to me was that I ate vegetables. At the time I laughed, but I understood what he meant. When you’re looking for someone to share your life with, it’s probably wise to choose the person who will influence you to eat well, exercise, and stay healthy rather than someone who encourages you to make unhealthy choices. This works for spouses as well as friendships.

Earlier this month was National Friendship Day, which got me thinking about friends and how they affect health. Here’s where I ended up: friends can be the best influences and the worst influences. They can encourage better eating habits and regular exercise, and sometimes they can encourage not-so-great food and lifestyle choices (I’m sure many of us have succumbed to the words “c’mon, just stay for ONE more glass of wine!”). While those naughty influences can be fun -- and we all need those once in a while too -- the friends who get you outside for a walk, to the gym, or to try cooking instead of ordering General Tzo’s Chicken have a more positive impact overall. And you’ll feel much better the next morning than when you had the extra glass of wine.

If you haven’t tried combining friendship and exercise, give it a shot. Studies show that having an exercise buddy actually increases a person’s commitment to consistent exercise, plus it makes the workout more enjoyable. Ask a friend to start up a weekly workout schedule with you. You’ll be less likely to hit the snooze button again if you know someone’s waiting for you at the gym. Plan a regular walk with one of your buddies where you can catch up on each other’s lives while getting outside and moving.

Exercise can also help you develop new friendships -- ask a coworker to be your workout buddy or post a bulletin in your community. Visit a Website where you can connect with like-minded people to workout with, such as Exercise Friends or Sites like this can help you find a local hiking group or intramural sports team.

Food offers another way to encourage a healthy lifestyle between friends. Share tasty, healthy recipes with each other, or take turns hosting dinner gatherings where you try out new, low-calorie recipes. Just make sure to save those rich dessert recipes for only the special occasions.