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Evelyn Resh, M.P.H.

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How Owning A Pet Can Help Stave Off Diabetes

Posted: 03/15/2011 8:37 am

The fact about being human I often find most sobering is this: None of us leave here alive. That said, it seems to me that making the best of my time here should be my primary objective and this includes staying as healthy as I can.

In my case, this has meant coming to terms with the fact that I wear a women's size 16 and that despite a 50 pound weight loss -- which I have maintained for almost a decade -- I will never be thin. There is inherent disappoint for me in this. I cannot deny that I continue to look through women's magazines at sassy, hard-bodies in scant bikinis wishing that I too could purchase and actually wear one of those minimalist beach outfits. But at age 51, I feel it's safe to say I have come to terms with the reality and fashion limitations imposed by my full-figure. My focus now is on doing all I can to prevent chronic and debilitating illness, most particularly heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Most of us are familiar with the over all picture: both cardio-vascular disease and type 2 diabetes are major health problems in the U.S.. As a health care provider, I see the impact of these illness and their deleterious affects on my patients everyday. There is no question that obesity and the contributory eating habits associated with weighing more than you should are major culprits. However, it's not just excess food and fat that's putting folks at risk. Sedentary life-styles -- regardless of how much you weigh -- increase people's risks for developing these diseases.

Like many folks who reach a certain plateau with weight loss, I have leveled off at a weight that is heavier than my ideal weight but nonetheless stable. As I aged and thought about my organs aging right along with me, I realized I needed a strategy that would help me keep moving and continue to keep my weight stable in order to accomplish my primary objective of being as healthy as possible.

In my case, this has involved contracting with a personal trainer. This was no easy decision. The terms of his employment involved signing a contract for 15 years and shelling out $2000.00 up-front. I also had to wait for almost eight months before he was available and his manager put me through weekly visits of interviews to determine if we would be a good match. But it was worth it. With longish curly hair, eyes that sparkle, and a marvelously athletic body, he inspires me daily to do my best on our hikes, pay attention to my pace to maximize my cardio-vascular fitness, and to stay good humored no matter what. He never takes a sick-day and manages to spur me on using a gentle but no-nonsense approach that never involves commenting on my weight or clothing size. My trainer's name is Sam. He is a Standard Poodle.

The research on the positive aspects of human-canine relationships is extensive. Dogs help us with all sorts-of things: improved independence and mobility for the blind, seizure prevention/awareness, search and rescue, and pet therapy, just to name a few. But, prevention of diabetes and cardio-vascular disease through dog-ownership is an under-studied, under-stated topic. This strikes me as so odd given what I live with everyday. When Sam stares at me with the undeniable intention of getting me to get up and walk with him for at least an hour at the start of the day and ideally again in the evening I can feel every muscle and organ in my body thanking me. And Sam thanks me too for giving him what he wants most -- exercise, mental stimulation, and companionship. It's a win-win situation.

According to research by exercise scientist Cindy Lentino, dog owners who regularly walk their dogs had about one-third of the risk of diabetes in comparison to non-dog walkers. They also had additional markers of health not evident in the non-dog walking group, like lower rates of depression, and high blood-pressure. Further, according to preventive cardiologist Barry Franklin, Ph.D., of William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan, patients with heart disease who have dogs and walk them have a better prognosis.

In my case, I have hard-core evidence that Sam's method of training works: my fasting glucose and HgA1C -- both measurements of risk for diabetes -- have been gone down since we started working together and I have lost a bit more weight. So far, Sam is living up to his end of the agreement.

Everyone should be concerned about prevention of heart disease and diabetes not just those of us that fight the battle of the bulge. If you have a dog but don't walk it I suggest you start. And, if you don't have a dog consider getting one. Find a reputable breeder or better yet, go to your local shelter and adopt. Think of it this way, you can save a dog's life while they're prolonging yours.

It is true that none of us leave here alive. But, extending our lives and living as healthily as possible are reasonable expectations to have. Make friends with a dog -- it can make all the difference in helping you reach this goal.

 
 
 
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