Furry Friends and Habits of Health
One of the foundational Habits of Health is maintaining a healthy environment. That means organizing and adjusting your external influences so that they promote, rather than hinder, healthy habits. This encompasses everything from your home to your family and friends. While aligning all of these variables with optimal wellbeing can take time and effort, the result is a refuge where even when you are struggling internally the strength and support of the people and things around you help to keep you on the right path.
We often talk about your environment in terms of people—like your relationships—and the physical things you surround yourself with—like what you keep in your kitchen—but what you choose to put in your external environment can go even further. For many people, having a pet is a deep emotional calling, but as soon as you bring a furry friend into your home, they become a part of your environment.
In many cases, pets can be more present than many of the people in your life, which means that they could play a big role in your Habits of Health.
Good news: Pets can be a wonderful boon to your health if you let them. Dogs and cats have been used as emotional therapy tools for many years, helping people cope with challenges ranging from PTSD to Autism, but even a pet without special training can help you to build Habits of Health. For example, a recent study found that dog owners walk 22 minutes more a day than non-dog owners (which translates to about 2,760 steps, according to the researchers).
This is the buddy system in four-legged form, and the best part is that it probably won’t feel like exercise. After all, it’s not like you are packing a bag for a trip to the gym. This is activity that naturally comes with being a good pet owner: Taking your dog for walks, playing with them, stepping away from the computer a few times a day just to scratch their heads.
Not only are you likely to be more active, but that activity gets reframed. Many of us find it easier to make a choice where the only person living with the consequences is ourselves, but when we think about the people (or critters) that depend on us, the healthier decision becomes much more appealing. We don’t want to let them down.
By introducing a dog into your environment, you might be more likely to go for a walk because you know how much your dog loves it. You might take more trips to the park to see more squirrels, and you might spend more time throwing a frisbee than you do watching television.
All of these little choices add up, and in most cases you aren’t thinking about yourself when you make them. Most Habits of a Healthy Environment are like this. You make the decision to change a big part of your life that influences you almost every day, but once the decision is made you can enjoy the benefits for years to come with little to no daily willpower.
Granted, getting a dog is a big decision, so if you don’t already have one, learn about the responsibility and expenses that come with one, and think about the commitment you’re making. They are not like that exercise bike in the corner that now doubles as a coat rack. They will demand your attention each day. That’s part of what makes them fantastic companions, of course, but it’s important that you are prepared to care for a dog if you get one.
And if you already have a dog, I bet they would love for you take them for a walk right now, so go get that leash!