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Prof talks about benefits of friendships

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By Margaret McKinney
Highlands University

New Mexico Highlands health education professor Ruthy Watson spoke at the TEDxABQ Women 2013 event in early December about the important wellness benefits of women’s friendships.

TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, is a nonprofit that formed in 1984 as a clearinghouse of free knowledge from the world’s most inspired thinkers and speakers.

Since then, the TED movement has spread internationally, with independent non-profits like TEDxABQ continuing in the original TED spirit of “ideas worth sharing” through free talks that are also shared online.

“For women, girlfriends are one of our best resources for stress management, good health, and well being,” Watson said. “The ties that bind us as girlfriends are deep and extensive – crossing boundaries, transcending time, space, geographic regions, and age.

“Girlfriends are mirrors that reflect our sense of self, encouraging our growth as individuals and spiritual beings, no matter what our belief system,” Watson said.

Beth Haley was the speaker liaison for TEDxABQ Women 2013. Watson was chosen to be the first of six speakers.

“It was fantastic to have someone like Ruthy Watson with a community health perspective remind us how important relationships are to our overall wellness,” said Haley said. “She is a knowledgeable, dynamic speaker who inspired the audience – both women and men – to reconnect with those important friends in our lives that we rely upon.”

Haley added, “TEDxABQ formed in early 2010 and our mission is to unlock the creative and economic potential of New Mexicans through events that draw out inspiring ideas, generate meaningful connections, and foster innovation.”

Watson said there is extensive research that supports the value of relationships and connectedness for health and wellness.

“People who are connected to others experience less depression, anxiety and emotional/psychological stress. Stanford neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky calls this connection social capital. For women, our girlfriends are resources that one can draw upon in times of trouble or need. I call this girlfriend capital and it’s more valuable than money in the bank.”

Watson joined the Highlands faculty fall semester 2013. She coordinates the Health Education and Health Promotion and Wellness programs in the Department of Exercise and Sport Sciences. She teaches upper division and graduate courses such as health, culture and diversity, U.S./Mexico border health issues, and health and sex education.

She uses videos of TED talks in her courses as a teaching resource.

“TED is a powerful tool for building critical thinking, reflecting on social issues, and inspiring creativity. The TED talks spark stimulating conversation and dialogue on course topics,” Watson said.

Watson earned her Ph.D. in public health from Walden University in Minneapolis, with a specialty in community health promotion and health education. Most recently, she was a health education professor at Southside Virginia Community College in Keysville, Va. Previously, she was adjunct faculty at Broward College in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., among others.

Her research interests include women’s health issues, health and spirituality, holistic approaches to health, and global health and disease prevention.

Watson presents at conferences in the United States and globally. She has presented internationally at Health Interdisciplinary Network conferences in Sydney, Prague and Oxford, England.