When dogs have a job to do, they give it their undivided attention. It turns out people should probably do the same. Stanford researchers found that attention and memory suffer in those who juggle work, email, and web-surfing, compared to those who focus on one task at a time. Other studies suggest employees actually lose time when multitasking.
You won't catch your pet going from dawn to dusk without any shut-eye. There's good evidence humans can benefit from catnaps, too. A study involving about 24,000 people indicates regular nappers are 37% less likely to die from heart disease than people who nap only occasionally. Short naps can also enhance alertness and job performance.
Walk Every Day
Whether you've got four legs or two, walking is one of the safest, easiest ways to burn calories and boost heart health. Taking regular walks can also help you:
Lower your risk for type 2 diabetes
Lower the risk of breast and colon cancer
Keep your bones strong
Keep your mind sharp
People are social animals, and friendships have measurable health benefits. Researchers in Australia followed 1,500 older people for 10 years. Those with the most friends were 22% less likely to die than those with the fewest friends.
Live in the Moment
Living in the moment may be one of the most important lessons we can learn from our pets. In a study called "A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind," Harvard psychologists conclude that people are happiest when doing activities that keep the mind focused, such as sex or exercise. Planning, reminiscing, or thinking about anything other than the current activity can undermine happiness.
Don't Hold a Grudge
Part of living in the moment is letting bygones be bygones. Let go of old grudges, and you'll literally breathe easier. Chronic anger has been linked to a decline in lung function, while forgiveness contributes to lower blood pressure and reduced anxiety. People who forgive also tend to have higher self-esteem.
OK, so maybe you don't have a tail. But you can smile or put a spring in your step when you're feeling grateful. Researchers have found a strong connection between gratitude and general well-being. In one study, people who kept gratitude journals had better attitudes, exercised more, and had fewer physical complaints.
According to a popular saying, curiosity may be hazardous to a cat's health. But not so for humans. Researchers have found that people who are more curious tend to have a greater sense of meaning in life. Other studies have linked curiosity to psychological well-being and the expansion of knowledge and skills.
Indulging in a little silliness may have serious health benefits. Cardiologists at the University of Maryland Medical Center found a stronger sense of humor in people with healthy hearts than in those who had suffered a heart attack. They conclude that "laughter is the best medicine" – especially when it comes to protecting your heart.
Get a Back Rub
The power of touch is nothing to sniff at. The Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine has found massage therapy can ease pain, give the immune system a boost, and help manage chronic conditions like asthma and diabetes. The touch of a loved one may be even more powerful. In one study, married women experienced less anxiety over the threat of an electric shock when they held their husbands' hands.
Drink Water When You're Thirsty
Dogs don't lap up sports drinks when they've been playing hard – and most people don't need to, either. During a typical workout, drinking water is the best way to stay hydrated. Water gives your muscles and tissues critical fluid without adding to your calorie count. Be sure to drink more than usual on hot days or when you're sweating a lot.
Most cats would trade kibble for a can of tuna any day. Luckily, you can choose to make fish a regular part of your diet. Salmon, tuna, trout, and other fatty fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which may reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and arthritis. In addition, Rush University researchers found that people who eat fish at least once a week are 60% less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease.
If You Love Someone, Show It
Dogs don't play hard to get – when they love you, they show you. It's a good approach for people seeking to strengthen their relationships. A study published in the journal Personal Relationships suggests small, thoughtful gestures can have a big impact on how connected and satisfied couples feel.
Goofing off is not just for kids and kittens. In his book, Play, Stuart Brown, MD, writes that playing is a basic human need along with sleeping and eating. Play enhances intelligence, creativity, problem-solving, and social skills. So take a cue from your pet and devote yourself to an activity that has no purpose other than sheer fun.
Enjoy the Great Outdoors
A hike in the woods may be a dog's idea of bliss, but it has plenty of benefits for the human mind and body, as well. Spending time outdoors can enhance fitness, increase vitamin D levels, and reduce stress. In children, playing in natural settings has also been linked to better distance vision, fewer ADHD symptoms, and better performance in school.
Make Time to Groom
Aside from the obvious health benefits of bathing and brushing your teeth, grooming can have a number of positive effects on your life. Good personal hygiene is vital to self-esteem. A tidy appearance can also help you get and maintain a job.
Be Aware of Body Language
Dogs are excellent at reading each other's intent from body language. Humans, not so much. While most of us do reveal our emotions through posture, speech patterns, and eye contact, other people generally aren't very good at reading those cues. People get better at decoding body language as they get older.
Stretching will keep you limber, but the benefits don't stop there. In a 10-week study, volunteers who did no exercise other than stretching experienced surprising physical changes. Besides improving flexibility, they increased their muscle strength, power, and endurance. Although the study was a small one, the results suggest stretching may be a good alternative for people who have a condition that rules out traditional strength-training.
Seek Out Shade
When you're at the park, and your pooch is ready for a break, she'll probably find a nice shady spot to relax. Dermatologists recommend you follow suit, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. That’s when you would soak up the most UV rays, particularly during late spring and early summer. While you're sheltered in the shade, it's a good idea to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen on exposed skin.
Stick to a Schedule
Pets like the consistency of a routine – they can’t tell a Saturday from a Monday. The same goes for the human body clock. People sleep better if they go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Sticking to a consistent schedule for bathing, dressing, and eating can also improve the quality of sleep.
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(20) Jose Azel/Aurora
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Rush University Medical Center.
Brown, Stuart. Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. New York: Penguin, 2009.
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE VETERINARY ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your pet’s health. Never ignore professional veterinary advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think your pet may have a veterinary emergency, immediately call your veterinarian.