HEALTH & FITNESS - Pets may be best friend, keeping owners healthy

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Have you ever arrived home from a tough day at work and were graciously greeted by your pet; to discover an instant smile and boost of happiness?

Pets are a natural mood enhancer, and just 15 to 30 minutes with our fluffy, scaly or feathery friends reduces stress and anxiety. There is a reduction in cortisol, a hormone that is associated with stress. Also serotonin, a chemical connected to well-being, is produced during those key minutes.

"Pets present unconditional love and acceptance to their owner," says Sara Archer, executive director at the Blue Mountain Humane Society. "They can provide a very positive impact on a person's life."

A study completed with 240 married couples showed significant results that pet owners had lower blood pressure and resting heart rates than non-pet owner couples.

Another study found that children with hypertension reduced their blood pressure while petting a dog.

"The touch alone is extremely therapeutic." believes Archer.

A 20-year study established that people who owned a cat were 60 percent more likely to survive a heart attack. There is a significantly better survival rate one year after a heart attack if the victim has a dog.

Healthy hearts are possible from reduced stress and the extra exercise from walking dogs that can prevent heart disease and lower cholesterol.

A dog's innate intelligence can act as a snack alarm for diabetics. As the body gets low in glucose, it produces a scent from the chemical change. One in three dogs owned by diabetics has the ability to "sniff and alert" owners to eat before their glucose levels become dangerously low. Dogs4Diabetes trains dogs to have this capability.

Dogs can also be trained as therapeutic dogs or guide dogs for the visually impaired.

"Pets offer us an avenue of reciprocal companionship and trust that can be hard to find in our busy world," says Archer. "Owners fulfill pets' simple needs and in turn they meet our needs."

People love pets on different levels; those who are childless compare their care for a pet as the same love for a baby. From dressing pets in crazy sweaters to crying when pets get injured there is something special about fuzzy loved ones that touch our soul.

For some people a pet is required to live, but when that pet passes to "kitty, horsey or birdie heaven" the devastation saddens our emotional state, confirming that pets have a stronger influence on our life and health than most recognize.

Elizabeth Kovar has been working in the fitness industry since 2006 with international experience in India and Australia. She has a master's degree in recreation and tourism and is a programs coordinator at the YMCA where she trains, instructs fitness classes and assists in marketing projects. She welcomes questions and comments and can be reached at ekovar@wwymca.org.

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