The Healing Power of Your Pets

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Dogs are known to be man’s best friend, and according to recent studies, they may just be man’s best workout partner, too.

People who own dogs are more likely to walk more, walk faster, and enjoy a more active lifestyle than people who don’t, experts say. The obligation to take the dog out no matter the weather, season, or temperature drives people to get moving when they might not otherwise: “When it’s dark, when it’s raining, the dog needs a walk, every day,” says animal behaviorist Dr. Sandra McCune. Among dog owners who regularly walk their four-legged friends, 60% meet the criteria for regular moderate or vigorous exercise and are far less likely to be obese.

As a key source of primary food, animal companionship has long been known to offer a wide variety of health benefits, largely because pets help people effectively manage stress. Study after study proves it: Owning a pet helped lower the blood pressure of stockbrokers who suffered from stress-related hypertension even better than medication did. Cat owners are one third less likely to have a heart attack. The CDC reports that pets can decrease both your cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

The benefits go far beyond the physical – pets also reinforce social bonds, stave off loneliness, and help fight depression. Animals don’t judge or ask questions; they simply offer a wordless, unconditional sense of comfort that makes people feel safe and loved. “When children are asked who they want to talk to when they get upset, a lot of times their first answer is their pet,” says Dr. James Griffin, an expert in child development at the National Institute of Health.

Treatment programs are now harnessing the healing power of pets through animal-assisted therapy, where pets are brought into nursing homes, hospitals, mental institutions, and prisons. FEMA is now even bringing dogs to disaster sites as a form of “psychological first aid” for victims.

If you’re in the market for a pet, you may want to consider adoption as a first choice. Animal shelters are full of healthy, vaccinated (and free!) pets, and most shelters know the animals well enough to help you find the right pet to match your family and lifestyle.

Are pets an important source of primary food in your life? 

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About Laura Binder

Laura Binder is the Managing Editor of the Integrative Nutrition blog and a current student in the Health Coach Training Program. She enjoys running in Central Park, sampling NYC's bakeries, and hopes to visit all seven continents (three to go!). If you'd like to be featured on the blog, she can be reached at blog@integrativenutrition.com.