Prairie Fare: Pets can promote physical activity and wellbeing
Our dog Louis looked at the sidewalk that had a 10-foot puddle. He stopped and glanced at me.
We both would need to be Olympic athletes to leap over this body of water on our evening walk.
I did not need to coax him to cross the street away from the icy water. He didn’t want to freeze his paws, and I didn’t want to fill my shoes with water.
We followed a zigzag walking pattern as we encountered sidewalks filled with the water from melting snow.
While some dogs in our neighborhood wear little boots, I don’t think Louis would enjoy fancy footwear.
Our dog was helping us meet the goal of at least 30 minutes of daily, moderate physical activity. We can meet the physical activity goal in shorter segments, such as two 15-minute walks per day or other physical activities such as riding a bike.
Health experts recommend that children get 60 minutes of physical activity daily.
When the weather warms, getting outside in the fresh air and sunshine can promote health. Be sure to put on some sunscreen, though.
Pets are good for our health on social, physical and emotional levels.
Louis paused for several “meet and greets” with other dogs in the neighborhood. We interacted with the pet parents. Pets can promote social interaction among adults, too.
Published research has shown that interacting with pets can have measurable effects in reducing our blood pressure, blood cholesterol levels and weight. Walking a pet can foster all those positive effects.
By getting more physical activity, we can reduce our risk for heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
Walking is good for the pets, too. Both humans and animals endured a long, cold winter in North Dakota and beyond. I did not see many dogs on walks when the outdoor temperature dipped low on the thermometer.
I noticed the effects of too-little exercise on Louis when I was putting on his harness and leash.
I had to adjust the harness width to give him a little more room.
Pets promote mental wellbeing. They can reduce our stress because a hormone, oxytocin, increases when we interact with pets. Oxytocin is sometimes called the “cuddle chemical.”
At least one study has shown that children with autism can improve their social skills and cooperation when they interact with pets.
Interestingly, even caring for pet fish can have some benefits. Another study followed children with diabetes who cared for pet fish. As the teens managed the care of fish, they became more disciplined in monitoring and managing their blood glucose levels.
In an 8-month study, Australian researchers studied the impact of introducing a dog into a household. Having a dog in the household significantly decreased loneliness within three months and the effect lasted throughout the study.
While not every household has a dog to walk or the resources to support caring for a pet. Some communities in the U.S. have “loaner dog” programs from animal shelters. Neighborhoods can support dog walking with waste disposal bins and plastic bags.
Maybe a neighbor with a pet needs some help ensuring their pet gets enough exercise.
Remember safety, too. Handwashing is key. Be sure to wash hands after playing with a pet, feeding or cleaning up after a pet. After petting an animal, be sure to wash your hands before eating and doing food preparation, too.
If you need a snack after walking your dog, this might fit the bill. This recipe, however, is for the humans, not the pets. Check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet.
Honey and Oatmeal Energy Bites
- ½ cup honey
- 1 ½ cups old-fashioned or quick oatmeal
- ½ cup creamy peanut butter (or other nut butter)
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon chia seeds
- ½ cup unsalted dry-roasted peanuts, chopped
- ½ cup mini dark chocolate chips
Combine honey, oatmeal, peanut butter, vanilla extract and chia seeds together in large bowl.
Combine chopped peanuts and mini chocolate chips in a shallow bowl or plate. Roll each ball in the mixture to coat the outside. The finished product does not need to be refrigerated, but store it in an air-tight container to prevent it from drying out. Eat within 7 to 10 days for best quality. The energy balls may be stored in the freezer for up to three months.
Note: You can substitute crushed peanuts for other various nuts or seeds from your pantry. Crushed walnuts, pecans, almonds, pistachios, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds or flaxseed can provide a different taste and texture.
Makes 18 energy bites. Each piece has 170 calories, 9 grams of fat, 4 grams of protein, 19 grams of carbohydrate, 3 grams of fiber and 35 milligrams sodium.
Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences. Follow her on Twitter @jgardenrobinson.