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Cheryl Tiegs finds it easier to forge new friendships when she gets out of her comfort zone – way out.

“I’m a little shy about meeting new people because I’m not good at small talk and idle chit chat,” says the iconic Tiegs, 59, widely recognized as America’s first supermodel.  “But sometimes on outdoor adventure trips, we find ourselves in uncomfortable situations – and all you can do is turn to the person next to you and laugh about it. You have no choice but to bond with each other.”

But strengthening her personal connections isn’t the only motivation that has Tiegs regularly scaling rocks, hiking mountains and otherwise breaking free of her daily routine. She’s discovered that challenging herself, seeking adventure and embracing nature are deeply connected to her personal growth, happiness and vitality.

“I feel close to nature, and very content when I’m in it. I’m at my best when my feet are on the ground.”

At least once a year, Tiegs gathers her courage and heads out on a Sports Travel Adventure Therapy (STAT) trip with a small group of like-minded women. The Greenwich, Conn.-based travel firm, whose mission is to empower women to realize their full potential, organizes three to four trips a year to destinations all over the world.

“STAT trips are part of who I am,” says Tiegs. “Some of the trips are quite rigorous. We did the Inca trail, and that was fantastic. Every step of the way was a miracle. We’ve backpacked in the Grand Tetons; hiked in Moab, Utah; gone caving in Belize. We also do yoga and talk about our purpose in life. I think adventure and challenge are important for aging, for longevity, for day-to-day life, because you step outside of yourself -you step out of what is expected.”

Between STAT trips, Tiegs finds her own way into the wild, most recently to the Arctic Circle. “I just got back from a 10-day expedition in the Arctic with Will Steger, ” she says.  “I went from my home in L.A. to the ice -talk about going outside the box! It was zero degrees every day, and 20 below with wind chill. One morning I went on a dogsled ride, and I was on a rustic dogsled – trust me, it wasn’t anything like Julie Christie in Dr. Zhivago.”

Tiegs says she gets a deep satisfaction from feeling embraced by nature, even nature at its most exposed. I cried, I loved it so much, she recalls. I was as far north as you can get, and I felt that vulnerability, and I loved it.

Back home in her more temperate and modern environment, Tiegs strives for balance by eating healthy and practicing yoga and meditation. She credits mind-body exercise with helping her let go of stress and improve her outlook. “I lose my center if I don’t take care of myself. If I ever find myself getting impatient with a loved one, I know its time for me to meditate and get myself back on track.”

She also believes that it helps her be a better parent. One of the first things she taught her son, Zack, was to respect her practice time. “When he was little, I’d look at him and say, ‘Mama meditate, don’t disturb!'” she laughs. “I have always made time to meditate. It soothes my soul and totally centers me.”

Tiegs is passing her healthy ways along to Zack, now 15, and she says the impact is evident – and not all that hard-won. “Healthy habits are not hard to promote: For one, I just don’t provide junk food in the house,” she says. “And I can see that his good diet affects his mood. I can see the change in his temperament if he has a soda. When he’s eating well, he’s pretty much always in a sweet mood.”

But to Tiegs, true health isn’t just about exercise and eating right.   “Ageless vitality and ageless beauty,” she asserts, “are both born of continually shaking off what’s familiar and by challenging yourself.   There is no question that being beautiful has a lot to do with inner beauty -and I know that sounds cliched, but there is something to be said for cliches, because they can have truth in them. And, for me, the key to beauty is learning, growing. When you get outside your box, you grow -and you give off that inner light, which is very attractive.”

“What’s more,” she adds, “you don’t need a ticket to the Arctic Circle to push yourself and make new discoveries. You can do something new every day. You can take up gardening, knitting, cooking, biking, walking – it doesn’t matter. Just do something new.”

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