Owning a Pet Can Be Healthy

Thursday, March 18th, 2010 by American Senior Fitness Association   View This Issue of Experience!

SFA author Jim Evans is a 42-year veteran of the health and fitness industry and an internationally recognized fitness consultant. Today Jim shares a creative idea with a lonely widow seeking to cope with grief and depression.

DEAR JIM: My health has been going downhill ever since my husband passed away last year after a long illness. I haven’t been handling my grief very well, and I find myself down in the dumps most of the time. My doctor has prescribed an antidepressant which seems to help a little, but I still can’t seem to shake this constant feeling of loneliness. I know you have always said that exercise helps to fight depression, but I really don’t feel up to anything very physical. Is there anything else you can recommend? DEPRESSED IN DULUTH

DEAR DEPRESSED: I’m sorry for your loss, and I can understand why you don’t feel like engaging in any physical activity while you are still grieving. However, a little bit of exercise can help in your recovery, even if it’s only a daily walk around the block.

So, let me suggest a different approach to accomplishing the same thing.

I’d like for you to get up bright and early tomorrow morning, put on your favorite dress, and visit the local animal shelter. Don’t laugh. Okay, go ahead and laugh if you feel like it. Yes, I mean the animal shelter. And, while you are there, I want you to adopt the first dog — or cat — that you fall in love with. I guarantee that you will fall in love with one!

Why a dog or cat? Because, according to the Centers for Disease Control (http://www.cdc.gov/Healthypets/health_benefits.htm), pets can decrease your blood pressure, lower your cholesterol, and diminish your feelings of loneliness. Equally important, they increase your opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities and for socialization.

You guessed it: If you select a dog, you will have to take that cute little critter for a walk on a regular basis, so you’ll both benefit from some fresh air and exercise. With a pet, you will be responsible for its care and feeding, and you will be rewarded with "unconditional love and acceptance," says Rebecca Johnson, associate professor at the University of Missouri Sinclair School of Nursing, the College of Veterinary Medicine, and director of the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction.

"Research in this field is providing new evidence on the positive impact pets have in our lives," adds Johnson in a report to UPI’s ArcaMax Publishing (http://www.arcamax.com/healthtips/s-620986-109857).

You will be saving a life, too. Between three and four million dogs and cats are euthanized each year in the United States simply because too many people give up their pets and too few people adopt from shelters (http://www.hsus.org/). You can help an abandoned pet — and, perhaps, yourself at the same time.


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