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Can the canine cure work for you?

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Walking is one of the simplest and most beneficial daily habits you can adopt. You don’t need any fancy equipment to do it. Its low impact, self-paced, easy on your joints — and it’s proven to make you healthier.

Research shows that brisk walking can reduce belly fat, strengthen your bones and muscles, and prevent obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease, among other things.

But despite all these worthwhile benefits, sometimes you just don’t feel motivated to put your walking shoes on. Not to mention that walking by yourself can feel boring, tedious or even downright lonely — a feeling you want to avoid because of the ‘stroke connection.’

So here’s where dogs come in…

Dogs make walks more fun and give you that extra motivation to get out and go even when you don’t feel like it.

And, as a result, man’s best friend packs a punch in the health department — especially if you’re over 60. A recent study found that those daily dog walks lead to lower body mass index and fewer doctor visits for seniors.

“Our results showed that dog ownership and walking were related to increases in physical health among older adults,” said Rebecca Johnson, the director of the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri. “These results can provide the basis for medical professionals to recommend pet ownership for older adults and can be translated into reduced health care expenditures for the aging population.”

Researchers at the University of Missouri reviewed data from the National Institute on Aging and the Social Security Administration’s 2012 Health and Retirement Study, looking specifically at human-animal interactions, physical activity, frequency of doctor visits and health outcomes.

Based on their analysis, researchers concluded that older adults with dogs exercise and socialize more, which led to better health outcomes. But just because you own a dog doesn’t mean you’ll be the picture of good health. You actually have to develop a strong bond with your dog, according to researchers.

That’s because people who had a stronger bond with their dog were more likely to walk their dog frequently. They were also more likely to socialize with other dog owners, which is another boon for their health.

One more important takeaway here is that walking your dog is the key to being a healthy dog owner. If you and your dog share a love of couches and T.V., you’re probably not doing your health (or your dog’s health) any favors. That is, of course, unless you’ve taken a walk before settling down with your favorite show.

But maybe you’re not a dog person… or you’re just not ready to head to the animal shelter and bring home a pooch (it’s quite a commitment, after all). You can still reap some of these benefits by getting out and walking with or without a canine companion. Walk with a two-legged friend instead or go to a park or trail where you can bond with other people for an extra health boost. You can even volunteer to walk dogs at a local shelter, where you can enjoy some canine company without the same level of commitment.

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