STAYING FIT AND HEALTHY DURING THE HOLIDAYS

With the holidays coming up, the highlight for many people during this season is gathering with family and friends and enjoying favorite holiday treats. Here are some tips that will help you enjoy your holidays to the fullest while not increasing your waistline.

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MAKING AND KEEPING NEW YEARS RESOLUTIONS

Only 8 percent of individuals achieved their resolutions in 2016, according to Statistic Brain. This is likely due to most people having unrealistic expectations about the speed, ease and consequences of the resolutions they make. People attempting self-change rarely succeed the first time; most need five or six attempts, according to a paper published in American Psychologist by Janet Polivy and Peter Herman. The authors suggest false hope syndrome is the cause for failure.

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HEALTHY HOLIDAY OPTIONS

The holidays are a wonderful time to gather with family and friends to celebrate. These celebrations often consist of many delicious treats and hardy meals. You can still maintain a healthy diet with a little thought and planning in advance. Research from a recent Web-based survey found 18 percent of people feel they cannot eat healthily during the holidays because they don’t want to miss out on their favorite foods. You can still eat the foods you enjoy this season, just in moderation.

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Benefits For Babies

Studies have shown that babies raised in families with pets may be less likely to develop allergies and asthma, especially if the pet is in the home before the children are 6 months old. Children with a pet in the home are also known to have fewer colds and ear infections during their first year.


Psychological Problems

Animals have been used in psychotherapy with great results. Cats and parrots are sometimes incorporated into therapy for individuals who tend to act out because of aggression or impulse control issues. “The animal will stay near that person until the person starts upsetting the animal, and then it will move away,” said Bill Kuesser, vice president of marketing for the Delta Society, a nonprofit group that promotes animal-assisted therapy. “The doctor then can point out the effect the patient’s behavior had on the animal. They seem to be able to work through aggression issues more effectively that way.” Larger animals such as horses are being used to help troubled teenagers better control their behavior. The teens gain self-esteem from working with large animals, but they also learn to regulate their emotions so they don’t spook the horse.


Institutional Settings

Therapy dogs are often employed in public settings for their calming effects. One study found such dogs effective in easing the anxiety of people waiting to have an MRI. Courtrooms are another setting where therapy animals are employed. “There are more and more animals allowed in court,” Kuesser said. “Somebody might be very upset about having to get up and testify, particularly if the person who victimized them is there. Animals have been shown to help calm people down in that setting.”


Crisis Relief Efforts

Therapy dogs are being incorporated into crisis relief efforts, said Amy Rideout, director and president of HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response, a group that makes therapy dogs available at crisis scenes. HOPE was formed shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks; social workers found therapy dogs were able to help crisis responders open up about the toll their work had taken on their psyches, Rideout said. “They don’t want to show stress. They want to find their buddies,” she said of the responders. “Many knew something was wrong, but they didn’t want to talk to a mental health professional about it. ” But when a therapy dog accompanied the therapist, the responders tended to open up more. “The dogs made a bridge between the mental health professional and the person,” Rideout said.


There’s no denying animals have a profound emotional, psychological and physical effect on humans. People can reap health benefits from caring for and loving an animal, and there are trained therapy animals for times when your health takes a downturn.

Pet owners can attest their four-legged housemates truly become integrated into the family. They can be nurturers, stress relievers, protectors, motivators for physical activity and even alarm clocks. Beyond all this, animals also play an important role in health and wellness.


Cardiovascular Health

Dogs can protect hearts. Research shows a connection between dog ownership and reduced risk of cardiovascular problems, such as high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels. A study published in the American Journal of Cardiology found male dog owners were less likely to die within a year after a heart attack than those who did not own a dog. Other studies have found heart attack survivors and those with abnormal heart rhythms who own dogs live longer than people with the same heart problems.


Rehabilitation

Although animal therapy is mostly considered to be a tool for rehabilitating people with physical ailments or impairments, it is also helpful for cancer patients, people in long-term care facilities, chronic heart failure patients, veterans with PTSD and children with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities. The purring of a cat reduces blood pressure.    

ANIMALS PLAY VITAL ROLES IN HEALING

ANGELA S. HOOVER

Angela is a staff writer for Health & Wellness magazine.

more articles by Angela s. hoover

Pain Management

The stress-relieving benefits and happiness that come with caring for and bonding with an animal can help alleviate pain. Studies from the Research Center for Human/Animal Interactions found interacting with animals can increase levels of the hormone oxytocin in the body. Oxytocin helps people feel happy and trusting. It has powerful effects on the body’s ability to be in a state of readiness to heal and grow new cells. Some clinical trials have shown that therapy animals, including dogs, cats and even rabbits, helped reduce the sensation of pain in both adults and children. A study from Loyola University found patients participating in pet therapy during recovery sometimes needed significantly less pain medication.


Physical Activity

Having a dog means more daily walking will be incorporated into your life. Studies from the American Journal of Public Health and the American Journal of Preventative Medicine have shown children with dogs spend more time doing physical activity than those without dogs, and adults with dogs walk almost twice as much as adults without dogs. This is beneficial because walking as little as 30 minutes a day can improve your health.