Pets, Health, and Fitness

By Tia Norris, August 2019 Issue of Echo Magazine in Phoenix, AZ.

Whether it’s cats, dogs, birds, horses, reptiles, or otherwise, almost all of us can say, at least, that there’s an animal out there we identify with — or, if you’re like most pet owners, there’s an animal or several that our world revolves around. The unique bond between us and our animals is as old as time and has the potential to enrich our lives in incredible and countless ways. It may seem like a no-brainer to some, but the interplay between our health, our pets’ health, and how we affect each other is something worth discussing. Here are some talking points about how it all fits together:

Ways pets improve our health:

Interaction with pets releases endorphins, which produces an amazing biological chain reaction of good health: having higher levels of endorphins has been linked to lower cortisol, lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and a myriad of other positive health markers. Many universities, workplaces, and therapy-focused institutions are already incorporating the power of animals to deliver happiness by including them in wellness-focused initiatives. Personally, I make time every day for my cats, not only for them, but also because of the stress-busting benefits for me, too. Ask any pet owner how they feel after spending quality time with their fur babies – it’s undeniable that the unconditional, simple nature of our pets can give us all the feels. 

Taking care of pets can provide accountability for our fitness programs. Now, this point mostly applies to dogs, horses, and other animals that you can actually exercise with … but, this is a big one! Dogs are easy on this point, and of course some breeds are better suited for this than others, but heading out on a W-A-L-K or run every day or multiple times per day can obviously help to keep us on track with our own goals. They love it, and it helps keep us moving without the choice to skip — that’s a win-win!

Pets and other animals can provide interesting variety for new fitness ventures. Cat yoga, dog yoga, equestrian, and more — if you haven’t tried them yet, what are you waiting for? There are plenty of ways to pursue your own fitness while in the company of the animals we love. When you exercise with pets, it’s like doubling your benefits: you get the mental and emotional payoff from endorphins while also working on yourself physically along the way. Yes, please! 

Ways we can improve our pets’ health:

Pets need physical and (usually) social activity in the same ways that we do. Make playing with them a priority — don’t forget! If you have a busy schedule where you’re not around as much, buy toys to accomplish a similar goal or consider hiring a pet sitter/dog walker to play with your pets for you. Dogs might want to walk, to run, to play fetch with a ball or frisbee, to wrestle, to socialize with other dogs at the dog park, to swim, to hike, and more! Cats definitely want to run, climb, scratch, hunt, dig, and chase. Get creative in the ways that you keep your pets active — they want, need, and will be overjoyed with variety, consistency, and careful thought into ways to keep them moving. 

They also need good food, hydration, and recovery just like we do. Talk to your veterinarian and do some research on your own, too. While pet nutrition may not be quite as complex as human nutrition, it does matter. There are crappy, cheap foods out there for our little babies just like there are tricky, garbage options for us humans. Find some trusted resources who can educate you on what your pets actually need and follow through just as much as you would on your calories and macros for yourself. 

Phoenicians: be as heat-conscious for your pets as you do for yourselves. This means that if your pet goes outdoors, they might need extra water, cooling towels, foot pads/booties, special formulas for heat exertion, and more. Don’t you dare leave your pet in a hot car or make them walk on hot asphalt/rocks without adequate protection! And don’t forget about your pets indoors, too. I know we’re all trying to cut corners by not running the A/C during the day, but be mindful about the indoor temps, amount of shade, access to water, access to cool tiles/floors, etc., to keep your loved ones cool during the annual heatwave. 

Don’t forget about regular check-ups, too. It’s easy to ignore or forget about taking our little ones to the vet when they aren’t complaining. Remember, they can’t speak for themselves — whether they’re showing subtle signs of distress or not, they need to be monitored by your trusted team of docs and specialists at just as regular intervals that you do, with your dentists and doctors. 

With all the benefits of owning or interacting with pets, it’s no wonder that so many of us are so attached to our animals. Remember that making time for them also is making time for yourself, as well — and take care of them the same way that you treat yourself to ensure a long, happy, healthy life for you both.

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