Four legged friends: the ultimate health companions

07.06.16 |

A pet could be a powerful way to create and maintain Habits of Health

When we talk about the Habits of Health, we often talk about your health bubble. The idea is that your environment and the people around you have a profound impact on your health goals. If you are pursuing Optimal Wellbeing, clearing your home of temptations and having friends and family supporting you when times get tough can mean the difference between a tough day that ends in success or a total relapse into your Habits of Disease.

Not everyone in your health bubble has to walk in two legs. In fact, having a pet could be a powerful way for you to create and maintain Habits of Health.

Before we talk about the how, let’s talk about the why. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that a pet can decrease:

  • Blood pressure
  • Cholesterol levels
  • Triglyceride levels
  • Feelings of loneliness

All of these benefits are important, but that last point is especially interesting. One of the most difficult parts of creating health is making choices that are in direct contradiction to the habits we have reinforced for decades. The choice that is actually better us is often the hardest to make because we are forced to fight against our own momentum. The presence and support of a pet can make that easier.

Had a hard day and don’t feel like getting your 10,000 steps? Well, your dog needs to talk a walk regardless, so you had best get your shoes on and go for a stroll.

Having trouble unwinding because of your stress levels? Well, your cat wants to curl up with you, so you might as well read a book while you give him the chin scratch he likes.

A pet in your home can be like an ever-present voice to remember and stick to your Habits of Health, especially if that pet has a natural inclination to be active, like a dog. I know for me that my two dogs keep me from sitting too long, they get me outside when I am too focused on work, and they brighten the mood whenever they bounce into the room. For both you and your pet to get the most out of your relationship, however, you should start with a plan.

Here is what I recommend:

  • If you don’t already own a pet, think long and hard about the responsibility involved. While the rewards of having a furry friend are numerous, don’t underestimate the commitment. A dog or cat is likely to live more than a decade, and with adult pets being less likely to be adopted, changing your mind a few years into your relationship could mean a lifetime in a shelter for your pet. If you do decide to get a pet, consider getting a rescue.
  • Set your pet’s schedule to correspond with your health goals. This might take some time, but if you train your dog to expect a walk at a certain time in the morning, the poke of a wet nose and big happy eyes might do more to get you out of bed on time than the buzz of an alarm. You don’t want to disappoint your pet, and you also want to keep your sleep schedule on track. That’s a win for both of you!
  • Make healthy activities more fun with some company. Going for a walk by yourself can be a special treat, but it’s also nice to have a friend by your side. Your runs and your hikes can take on a special new flavor when you have someone excited to share the experience trotting along beside you.
  • Use pet hugs to fight stress. When you’re feeling down or overwhelmed, your pet is there for you. Give them a big hug. This has a few benefits. Not only do you get the affection of your pet, which in itself is a stress reliever, but you also get a natural pause which can help to distance you from the thing immediacy of the moment. Taking a pause like this is like stopping to have a few a deep relaxing breathes, except your pet is pitching in to lend a hand.

How does your pet help with your Habits of Health? Do you have any tips or tricks that we didn’t talk about here? I’d love to hear them!