Dogs & Strengthening Our Pillars of Health….and Cats?!
My husband and I have been together for almost 9 years. Before we met I had never had a dog as a pet. As our 9 years have progressed so has my relationship with our now 14-year-old Australian Shepard Austin. I do not know much about the development of dogs but Austin was 5 when I first met him and he jumped all the time and I was not crazy about that but I suppose he was just a kid at that point but perhaps old enough to know better. Nonetheless he has grown into a faithful friend whose best day is every minute of each day. Recently I got thinking all the great correlations I can make to the four pillars of health and what dogs can teach us. So keep reading.
What do I mean by the pillars of health? The four critical pillars of health that inter-weave with one another to create a truly healthy life includes: Exercise, nutrition, sleep, and stress management. As a fitness professional I do not like to say that nutrition is probably the most important but in this day and age with a growing obesity issue and sky rocketing diabetes crisis, nutrition is far and away the best way to decrease side effects of obesity and diabetes. At a time where sitting is considered the new smoking, a physically active lifestyle comes in a close 2nd place for helping us live a long vigorous life free of disease and rich in preventative measures against age and lifestyle related health complications like falls, fractures and joint replacements! A variety of unhealthy sleep patterns prevent us from benefitting from good nutrition and exercise practices and an inability to bounce back and actively manage stressful life events and day-to-day stressors can undo the other three patterns more than we like to believe. So what do dogs have to do with all of this? And where do cats fit into this post? Keep reading!
On dogs and the pillars of health:
- Exercise: Our dog Austin has always been a happier and well-adjusted dog when under the influence of exercise! When he was younger and extremely energetic (Australian Shepard’s need work and responsibility), he was much better behaved and manageable after going for a walk or a session of ball or both! When he began co-habitating with Target the cat, he made it his job to give her some exercise by chasing her around the house and making sure she lived on the 2nd floor almost exclusively for 2 years! As a senior dog, Austin’s body and senses are much stronger with daily walks and chasing his favorite toys around the house. He does has a bit of “canine cognitive dysfunction” and as long as I am close by when he walks, he is sharper cognitively and can still jog a solid 1.5 miles. If we talk about the benefits of exercise and activity in human beings the same results would be found! Exercise energizes, helps keep us strong, and provides mental clarity and we could further break this down to how so among different age groups! So if you have a dog and are not walking it for a minimum of 20 minutes per day, get moving! Your dog does a body good!
- Nutrition: As Austin got older and was starting to show his age and losing weight we upped the quality of his diet (and my grocery budget) and have been able to stabilize his weight and keep him energized and get very healthy reports at veterinary check ups. The power of nutrition and human beings is beyond the scope of this already long post but the more whole food we eat the better off we are especially when partnered with exercise!
Sleep: Austin sleeps several hours per day. Even on the one day per week I bring him to my studio he will still get multiple hours of shuteye and he sleeps at least 8-10 hours overnight without getting up and roaming around. I periodically struggle with good quality sleep and I talk to people each week that are challenged by sleep. Lack of consistent quality sleep not only impacts our mental clarity but will also take us off track with our nutrition so even though we will not sleep as many hours as our canine counterparts it would behoove us to follow their lead with some consistent patterns including short naps when possible (20-30 minutes) and long slumbers (7-8 hours) each night to allow our physical and mental capacities re-calibrate for the upcoming day!
- Stress: I have yet to figure out what stress Austin suffers from except to say he gets a bit disgruntled when we leave him home during the workweek for 8-10 hours. So much so that he pees on the basement floor almost daily. Thankfully he is respectful to keep it on the concrete now that we roll up the doormats. So he has trained us to be more present and find a balance of how long we leave him away from home including me bringing him to work once per week which is not only good for him and I but all of our members who see him on Tuesday love him and get a boost of cheerfulness to their already happy temperaments when they come in! For us humans, no matter how bad our day could be, coming home to the love and energy of dog wipes it away and it has certainly inspired me to not sweat the small stuff seeing how Austin acts when I walk in the door each night or even after just being gone for a 30 minute run or 2 hours of running errands. That is a great way to live!
Ok so what about the cats? Well first, I lost my cat of 10+ years in March of 2018. Target was a great companion and similar to Austin would meet me at the door many days when I came home from work. It took me over a year to feel ok with the absence of her temperamental presence. Cats are like humans when it comes to caring for our health, consistently inconsistent. Cats (especially indoor cats) seem to be put out by exercise including walking to the food bowl or litter box. I mentioned earlier that Target lived on the 2nd floor of our house for almost two years to the day but once she finally stood her ground and told Austin to cut it out, we were unable to successfully transition her litter box to the basement. That was apparently too many stairs to take multiple times each day. Cats are finicky about their nutrition and as Target got older she got fussier with her food selection. Cats are not as resilient to the stress they have (in our case Target’s stress to old age and failing health and still being annoyed by the dog). And finally, cats sleep so much, they do nothing else except find other locations to hide and sleep so their canine and human counterparts will leave them alone!!!!!!