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Your four-legged friend could just be the key to a healthy new lifestyle. Research shows the 3.9 million Australian households with dogs and cats have a distinct advantage when it comes to health. And with the Heart Foundation's national Heart Week (May 2 to 8) reminding Australians of the importance of a healthy lifestyle, it's timely to think about exercise and fitness.

According to studies by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, Australian pet owners go the doctor 4.9 times a year compared with 5.6 times for non pet-owners.

And research from the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at the University of NSW, published in the Australian Medical Journal, shows that if all dog owners regularly walked their dogs, substantial health care savings would be likely to accrue.

"Dog owners are generally induced to exercise more and this obviously has positive impacts on their health over the long term," said Susie Chaseling, consultant to the Petcare Information & Advisory Service. "If a person is caring for their dog responsibly, they're rugging up in winter and taking it for a brisk walk and playing with it in the park. It's definitely a healthy thing to be doing."

According to Susie, dogs are effective personal trainers, motivating you to get up and go, and a 30 minute walk - or even longer - is just more fun with a happy dog by your side.

"Daily walks of 30 minutes or more will significantly contribute towards the positive mental and social health benefits that physical activity generates. There are also the advantages dog ownership is being proven to provide, such as increased social interaction with other dog owners, a sense of security and stress reduction."

Susie says that walking the dog can be rewarding for people wanting to incorporate exercise in their regular routine, but who don't see themselves as the "gym or exercise-class type".

So if National Heart Week is inspiring you to take further steps to a healthier life, make sure a dog is by your side.

Last Update: 24/03/07 20:57 Views: 2289

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