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Furry Friends Provide Big Benefits

Posted: June 20, 2018 at 4:48 pm

Photo credit: Pixabay

The first feelings of puppy love are probably distant memories for many older adults, but that doesn’t mean they can’t experience those same sentiments -- although the expression may be more literal than figurative this time around if their object of affection actually happens to be a furry friend.

And, if they consider animals an important part of their lives, they are far from alone. Indeed, 84.6 American households, or 68 percent, included a pet according to the 2017-2018 American Pet Products Association National Pet Owners Survey, up from 56 percent in 1998 in the poll’s first year.

Given the mental and physical perks pets offer, it’s no surprise those numbers are on the rise. Owning a pet can help your heart health, and not just because some pet owners are more physically active. In fact, simply sitting quietly and stroking a pet lowers people’s blood pressure and pulse rate. Along those same lines, interacting with animals can also reduce stress and anxiety levels.

Walking the Dog

And the benefits increase when your factor movement into the mix. A small study that focused on adults age 65 and older found dog owners walked about 23 minutes longer each day than non-dog owners and took an additional 2,760 steps. Dog owners also had eight fewer continuous periods of sitting down, according to the research cited in a story from Health magazine.

And other research shows the extra activity can translate directly into better health. According to a study cited by U.S. News & World Report, seniors who owned dogs and took them on regular walks were found to have lower body mass indexes, fewer visits to the doctor, and spent less time sedentary than those who did not have a dog or those who had dogs, but did not walk them.

But owning a dog doesn’t always equate to higher activity levels. If you are considering a canine companion, it’s important to find one that’s well-suited to your habits and abilities. For instance, if you really want an exercise partner, you should find a dog who enjoys walks and isn’t too large for you to manage safely.

Part-Time Pet Care

Also, keep in mind that you don’t have to be a dog owner to find a furry workout buddy. For instance, you can sign up as a service provider for a pet sitting and dog walking service. Joining such a network will not only encourage you to get some exercise outdoors, it will give you your dose of dog cuddles without the responsibilities and costs that can come with full-time pet ownership, which can be especially appealing if you like to travel or live in a space that doesn’t allow dogs. Pet sitting and dog walking can also be a great way to expand your social circle to include other animal lovers in your area.

In addition, animals themselves can play an important role in social support systems. In fact, studies have shown pet owners tend to have higher self-esteem and more extroverted than non-owners. And you don’t have to share a home with a pet to reap some of the same benefits. Animals are increasingly being used in a variety of settings, including hospitals and schools to help humans heal faster, adopt healthy habits, or overcome anxieties.

While you may not need formal animal therapy, working as a dog walker and pet sitter may provide many of the same benefits. You’ll be forced to become more of an entrepreneurial extrovert because you’ll be introduced to new people and challenges -- such as setting your own rates and schedule. And you’ll be getting more exercise all while earning extra money and enjoying the physical and mental benefits that come with animal interaction.

So, whether you own and care for your own pet or spend time doting over other people’s dogs, you can be sure your labor of love won’t go unrewarded.

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