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25 Reasons Why a Pet Helps You Stay Young at Heart

by Marianne Thomas

Whether they answer to Fido or Fluffy, pets aren't just companions, they become true members of our family. But unlike some relatives, our pets are natural stress-busters who help keep us young at heart by keeping us fully engaged in life.

Just ask Jeff Marginean, the author of “My Buddy Butch - Confessions of a New Dog Dad” and host of the My Buddy Butch Radio Show. When Marginean's mom passed away, a new puppy named Buttons helped improve his father's mood. “When my dad saw that puppy, he lit right up,” Marginean says. “They had been married almost 59 years. Buttons turned my dad around 180 degrees. He lived for taking care of that dog.”

Ever wonder about the different ways those furry friends can benefit your health? Here are 25 amazing ways pets keep us young at heart.

1. Daily exercise. Taking your dog for a daily walk means you get a daily walk, too. Walking not only helps to burn extra calories, it also keeps your joints limber, which helps seniors who suffer from arthritis.

2. Establish a schedule. Feed the cat. Walk the dog. Clean the litter box. Pets require daily care and seniors who own pets develop a day-to-day routine to care for them. Having a to-do list for your pet gives you tasks to do every day and keeps you busy.

3. Banish loneliness. You might be single, but you're never alone if you're a pet owner. Just ask the cat lover who has to shoo Fluffy off the morning newspaper to read it. Pets are constant companions.

4. Become a better neighbor. Remember those daily walks? When you're out and about with your pet, you get to know your neighbors and your neighborhood better, both of which lead to a greater attachment to your community.

5. Make new friends. When you love your pet, you usually love talking about their quirks, too, especially with other pet owners. Many a friendship has blossomed over casual chats about life with pets.

6. New romance. Nothing keeps the heart young like the thrill of a new romance. And if you're lucky enough to fall in love with another pet owner, you'll probably never need to explain the pet hair on the couch.

7. Laughter. Ever watch your cat chase the shiny pattern of a flashlight on the wall? Or marvel at how your dog jumps up for a tennis ball only to flop on his belly? Pets are like furry comedians; they keep us laughing and bring joy to our lives.

8. Lower blood pressure. Therapy animals are used in hospital and nursing home settings to help lower blood pressure and stress. Owning a cat or a dog is like having your own personal therapy animal by your side 24/7.

9. Explore new places. Is there a new dog park in town? Or a new pet store that encourages you to let your cat ride along in the cart? When you own a pet, you have more opportunities to discover new places that you might have overlooked otherwise.

10. Offer relief to Alzheimer's patients. A 1999 University of Nebraska study found that Alzheimer's patients suffering from Sundown Syndrome, a behavioral syndrome associated with Alzheimer's that is marked by increased aggressiveness, were aided by the presence of a therapy dog and experienced reduced agitation and restlessness during the early evening hours.

11. Fight depression. A University of Kentucky study presented in 1987 found that pet owners had greater levels of overall happiness than non-pet owners.

12. Helps you manage grief. The same University of Kentucky study found that pet owners dealing with the recent death of a loved one fared better during the grieving process than non-pet owners.

13. Enhance your self image. Your pet looks to you for his shelter, his food, his very security. Without you to care for them, your pet would be devastated. You are vitally important to your pet, and that knowledge can increase your self-esteem.

14. Be a hero. If you adopted your pet from an animal shelter, you rescued your friend from an almost certain death. You can take pride in being an animal rescuer. Better yet, share your story with others to inspire them to do the same.

15. Take up a new hobby. Maybe your furry friend isn't the next Best in Show, but you sure can have fun trying to win a blue ribbon. Owning a pet can lead to all sorts of new interests and hobbies, furthering your engagement with life.

16. Help others. Learning how you and your pet can become a therapy pet team gives you a valuable way to share the benefits of companion animals with individuals who truly need unconditional love.

17. Hit the road, Jack. You don't have to go on a cross-country road trip but your dog sure will enjoy a daily or weekly ride in the car. Take the road less traveled and enjoy a change of scenery.

18. Second career. Maybe you enjoy walking a whole pack of dogs along with your own. Or maybe you have a knack with grooming or are an expert at knitting pet sweaters. If you're passionate about caring for your pet, it might just lead to a new career for you.

19. Spoil 'em rotten. No grandkids? No problem! You can dote on your pet instead. You won't be the only one at the dog park with a brag book about your fur baby!

20. Wagging wanderlust. Take that trip you've dreamed about with your four-legged friend on a pet-friendly vacation.

21. Hit the books. Take a trip to the local library or bookstore and read all about your new friend. Lifelong learning keeps the mind sharp.

22. Surf the net. Looking for more information than you can find in books? Keep learning by visiting websites devoted to pets, pet care, and your pet's breed.

23. Say cheese! Learn more about digital photography and ways to share your images online on photo sharing sites or even on your own blog; your dog or cat is the perfect subject for your pictures.

24. Stay out of the waiting room. According to an article about the Pet Partners Program in Seattle, seniors with pets had fewer visits to their doctor than their non-pet owning counterparts.

25. You give me love, love, love. Just like the Van Morisson song says, pets give us unconditional love. Being loved, wanted, and needed not only feels great, it keeps us engaged in the present and looking forward to the future.

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If you need more information about "25 Reasons Why a Pet Helps You Stay Young at Heart" please call 866-683-4772 to speak to a senior care professional. Facebook | | Digg

Great list! Bella, the insanely cute labradoodle, and I are going for our Pet Partners Evaluation with Delta Society tomorrow! Volunteering with your pet and sharing the joy with those in hospitals, nursing homes, etc is a fabulous idea!
by Nora Burns submitted on Dec 3, 2009

Glad to see this topic featured! So many seniors find assisted living lonely. A pet can be a great comfort, especially after the death of a loved one.
by C Youderian submitted on Feb 6, 2010

Henry Ford Hospital (W. Bloomfield, MI) has a black lab "Henry" who (accompanied) roams the hallways & visits patients. So wonderful to watch the interactions between the beloved dog and the staff/patients/visitors!
by Karen Cameron submitted on Mar 23, 2010

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