Wanna get healthy? Meet a friend

Your own dog can help you meet friends

“Meet two friends and call me in the morning” may be good advice from your doctor. Medical researchers are learning more and more how strong social connections are linked to good health. Researchers call this social capital. When we think of capital, we usually think of money. Social capital is like money in the bank from having strong social supports. People who are involved in their communities, talk to their neighbors, and have a wide circle of friends have a lot of social capital. Social capital provides emotional support and also is a key factor for overall physical health.

A survey of over 53,000 people in the United States was used to study relationships between social relationships and health. The results were published in the American Journal of Health Promotion. Researchers looked at a variety of social connection opportunities, including spending time with relatives, neighbors, friends, or strangers; volunteering; participating in sports; or belonging to organizations. As expected, having social interactions was linked with improved health. Interestingly, friendship had an especially strong like to health. For example, people were significantly more likely to have very good or excellent health when they spent time meeting friends compared with joining a club or organization.

Toby shows me every day the value of a good friend. He’s always at my side and I reward his gifts of attention, doggie kisses, and tail wags with romps in the woods. As you know, Toby works as a therapy dog, making visits at the cancer center. In many ways, this makes him a professional friend. At his last visit, he met a special buddy. A gentleman getting chemotherapy saw Toby from across the room and his eyes just lit up. Turns out he used to have a wheaten terrier, so he and Toby made an immediate bond. The man instantly turned to Toby and started asking him questions. Normally, I answer questions posed to Toby, like, “How old are you? And how long have you been coming here?” When I told the man I couldn’t hear what he’d said, he lifted his head and replied, “I’m sorry. I wasn’t talking to you. I’m talking with Toby.” I completely understood, took no offense, and stepped back as I let these two share moments. Toby’s gaze stayed fixed on his new friend and his tail just flew as the man shared all kinds of stories, secrets, and messages with my little pup. When they were finished, I thanked the man for visiting with Toby and we moved to our next “customer.” I smiled at Toby and knew better than to try to satisfy my curiosity by asking what they’d been talking about—Toby’s excellent about keeping confidences. I was pleased to know that Toby was just the friend that man needed and that meeting with Toby was an important part of his healing therapy.

Make meeting with friends an important part of your daily health routine. And there’s no better buddy to help you meet and greet new friends and old than your favorite pup. So grab a leash, whistle for Fido, go meet some friends, and get healthier!

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