3 healthy ways to catch up with friends in Atlanta that don't involve 'Let's do lunch'

It's so easy to fall into the "let's do lunch" habit with friends. Now, in some ways, that's a very good thing. After all, there is some compelling evidence that strong relationships contribute to a long, healthy, and happy life, according to a report on University of Minnesota's community health website. But do you have to eat lunch together to get the benefits?
According to a report by Health Day, people who eat out take in more saturated fat, sugar and salt and consume an average of about 200 calories more a day than when they cook at home. So why not ditch the extra calories but keep the socialization benefits of connecting with your friends?
Here are some fabulous, active alternatives to scarfing down burgers with your besties around Atlanta:

Garden together

Georgia Native Plant Society. 3251 Panthersville Road, Decatur. 678-891-2668.

According to trainer-to-the-stars Jillian Michaels, whether you're digging holes for seedlings or weeding, gardening can burn up to 315 calories a minute. If you and your buddy don't have a garden to rally 'round, try volunteering somewhere like the Georgia Perimeter College Botanical Gardens. They always need volunteers and you'll get to rub elbows with members of the Georgia Native Plant Society.

Volunteer at a thrift store

Second Life Atlanta. 1 N Clarendon Ave., Avondale Estates. 678-974-5671.

You can chat with your pal while you sort or sell and even an hour or two a week helps the charity. One good choice if you're at a loss is Second Life Atlanta, a store that raises money to help homeless pets get a second chance at life. They need volunteers with fashion sense, organizational skills  and just a bit of muscle. It's also a great way to meet new friends.

Walk your pups together

Piedmont Dog Park. 400 Park Drive NE. Atlanta. 404-875-7275.

Walking burns calories and creates a great mood and so much the better if your canines benefit from your friendship, too. One good option is an off-leash dog park, such as the Piedmont Dog Park, that let your dogs romp while you walk or just sit and chat. This is a particularly good idea if you have a time crunch for fitting in friend time. The Piedmont Park opens at 6 a.m. and closes at 11 p.m., so you can probably find a great time to hang out with your dogs together.

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