Staying vital and connected can help you ward off the depression that often comes with aging. Here are simple things you can do, even from your own home.
Being a pet in America is a plum gig. Pets are incredibly well loved: according to a 2015 Harris poll, 95% of owners think of their animal as a member of the family. About half buy them birthday presents. And it’s a two-way street. People who have pets tend to have lower blood pressure, heart rate and heart-disease risk than those who don’t. Those health boons may come from the extra exercise that playing and walking require, and the stress relief of having a steady best friend on hand.
Scientists are now digging up evidence that animals can also help improve mental health, even for people with challenging disorders.
Though the studies are small, the benefits are impressive enough that clinical settings are opening their doors to animal-assisted interventions–pet therapy, in other words–used alongside conventional medicine. “It used to be one of the great no-no’s to think of an animal in a hospital,” says Alan Beck, director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University, citing the fear of causing infection. “Now, I don’t know of any major children’s hospital that doesn’t have at least some kind of animal program.”
The rise of animal therapy is backed by increasingly serious science showing that social support–a proven antidote to anxiety and loneliness–can come on four legs, not just two. Animals of many types can help calm stress, fear and anxiety in young children, the elderly and everyone in between.
More research is needed before scientists know exactly why it works and how much animal interaction is needed for the best results. But published studies show that paws have a place in medicine and in mental well-being. “The data is strong,” Beck says. “If you look at what animals do for people and how we interact with them, it’s not surprising at all.” Here’s a look some of the cutting-edge science in the field.
In one study, a stressed-out group of adults were told to pet a rabbit, a turtle or their toy forms. The toys had no effect. But stroking a living creature, whether hard-shelled or furry, relieved anxiety. It worked for people regardless of whether they initially said they liked animals.
Animals don’t have to be cuddly to help. In a 2016 study published in the journal Gerontology, elderly people who were given five crickets in a cage became less depressed after eight weeks than a control group. The act of caring for a living creature seems to make the difference.
Among the most-studied therapy animals, horses have been involved in medical treatment plans in Europe since the 1860s. Activities like grooming a horse and leading one around a pen have been shown to reduce PTSD symptoms in children and adolescents.
Animals can focus people’s attention. When people at an Alzheimer’s-disease facility dined in front of aquariums with brightly colored fish, they ate more, got better nutrition and were less prone to pacing. They were also more attentive and less lethargic.
Some research suggests that when children who struggle with reading read aloud to a trained dog and handler, they show fewer anxiety symptoms. “Their attitudes change and their skills improve,” says Lisa Freeman, director of the Tufts Institute for Human-Animal Interaction.
Animals make socializing easier for kids who find it stressful, says Maggie O’Haire of Purdue. In her study, when children with autism had a guinea pig in the classroom, they were more social with their peers, smiled and laughed more, and showed fewer signs of stress.
This appears in the April 17, 2017 issue of TIME
✦1⁄2 cup shredded part- skim mozzarella cheese
✦ 1⁄2 cup plain low-fat or fat-free yogurt
✦ 1⁄2 cup light mayonnaise dressing or salad dressing
✦ 1⁄4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
✦ 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
✦ 1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
✦1 cup loosely packed fresh spinach leaves, coarsely chopped
✦3⁄4 cup bottled roasted red sweet peppers, drained and chopped
✦1⁄4 cup thinly sliced green onions
✦3 red and/or yellow sweet peppers, seeded and cut into strips, or desired dippers
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, stir together mozzarella cheese, yogurt, mayonnaise dressing, 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan cheese, the flour, and the Dijon mustard.
2. Stir in the spinach, roasted red peppers, and 2 tablespoons of the green onions. Spread the cheese vegetable mixture evenly into a 1-quart ovenproof shallow dish or a 9-inch pie plate. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese.
3. Bake the dip, uncovered, for 15 to 20 minutes or until the edges are bubbly and the mixture is heated through. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons green onions. Serve with red and/or yellow sweet pepper strips. Makes 21⁄4 cups.
NUTRITION FACTS PER SERVING: Calories: 21, Total Fat: 2 g (0 g sat. fat), Cholesterol: 3 mg, Sodium: 47 mg, Carbohydrates: 1 g, Fiber: 0 g, Protein: 1 g.
• 5 oz mixed lettuce leaves
• 1 pint blueberries
• 1 pint strawberries
• Few sprigs of parsley
• Few sprigs of mint
• 4 1/2 oz Brie cheese, sliced into small pieces
• 1 tbsp olive oil
• 1 tsp honey
• Salt & pepper
• Place first six ingredients in a serving bowl
• Make dressing by mixing all other ingredients in a small cup until thoroughly blended
• Drizzle dressing over salad
• Top salad with almonds
1. Potatoes are bad!
Since we eat the highly processed version of the white potato—for instance, french fries and potato chips—consumption of this root vegetable has been linked to obesity and an increased diabetes risk.
But white potatoes are actually loaded with fiber and higher in essential minerals, such as iron, magnesium, and potassium compared to lot of root vegetables.
The bottom line: The form in which you consume a potato—for instance, a whole baked potato versus a processed potato that’s used to make chips—is important to consider.
2. Sugar? What about it?
Table sugar is as bad as High fructose corn syrup.
The bottom line: HFCS and regular sugar are empty-calorie carbohydrates that should be consumed in limited amounts. How? By keeping soft drinks, sweetened fruit juices, and prepackaged desserts to a minimum.
3. Salt causes high blood pressure and should be avoided.
Large-scale scientific reviews have determined there’s no reason for people with normal blood pressure to restrict their sodium intake.
Now, if you already have high blood pressure, you may be “salt sensitive.” As a result, reducing the amount of salt you eat could be helpful.
What to do is you can simply consume more potassium-containing foods.
Why? Because it’s really the balance of the two minerals that matters.
The bottom line: Strive for a potassium-rich diet, which you can achieve by eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
Salmon is one of the healthiest foods people can eat. Some of the benefits of wild salmon include:
- Helps to maintain brain health
- Improves eye health
- Reduces high blood pressure
- Protects skin
- Protects digestive tract
- Reduces depression
Here’s a quick salmon recipe that’s easy for a healthy and delicious dinner:
- Two tablespoons lemon juice
- ⅓ cup soy sauce
- ⅓ cup brown sugar
- ⅓ cup warm water
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 ½ pounds salmon fillets
- One teaspoon garlic powder
- One teaspoon salt
- Stir together lemon juice, soy sauce, brown sugar, water and olive oil until the sugar is dissolved.
- Season fillets with garlic powder and salt
- Place salmon fillets in a bag with the lemon mixture and marinate for two hours.
- Preheat the grill to medium heat
- Cook the salmon fillets for six to seven minutes on each side.
Need a side dish? Salmon goes perfectly with grilled asparagus – just add a little lemon juice and grill until slightly browned on each side.
Looking for a healthy, delicious snack that is easy to take with you on-the-go? This recipe for no bake peanut butter and oatmeal energy bites is the perfect snack for you and your kids.
- One cup of old fashioned oats
- Three tablespoons of natural peanut butter
- One teaspoon of vanilla extract
- One tablespoon of honey
- Pulse oats in a food processor until they’re the size of granola pieces.
- Add in peanut butter and pulse a few more times to make sure everything is mixed well.
- Decide whether you need to add more peanut butter based on whether the oats look dry
- Add in vanilla and honey until the mixture is sticky.
- Scoop the mixture out and roll it into balls with your hands.
Feeling creative? Mix it up by adding your favorite ingredients such as chopped walnuts or dried cranberry!
Putting these tasty treats in the refrigerator could dry them out, so make sure you keep them in an airtight container in a pantry instead.
Eating fruits, vegetables and high-fiber foods is important for a variety of reasons, including keeping your heart healthy. Even though there’s no cure for preventing heart disease, eating a few of these foods every day can lower your risk of heart disease:
- Salmon – Foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, have been proven to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. Because of the low mercury count, salmon can be eaten several times a week.
- Almonds – Almonds lower your risk of cardiovascular disease for a variety of reasons. They contain omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, magnesium, fiber and heart-healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats.
- Red Wine – Cheers to a healthy heart! The catechins and resveratrol in red wine improve your good HDL and decrease your risk of heart disease.
- Brown Rice – High-food fibers, such as brown rice, are great for your heart. Brown rice also contains B-complex vitamins, niacin and magnesiums.
- Blueberries – Nutritionists suggest eating a serving of berries every day. For cardiovascular benefits, snack on blueberries, which include beta-carotene, anthocyanin, vitamin C, folate, calcium and potassium.
- Sweet Potato – Because of the beta carotene, vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E, sweet potatoes provide heart-healthy benefits. You can eat them as a side dish or stuff a sweet potato for a delicious entree!
- Dark Chocolate – Have a sweet tooth? A square of dark chocolate, which is 70 percent or more cocoa, contains resveratrol and lowers blood pressure.
- Beans – Just ½ cup of cooked beans daily lowers cholesterol because they contain heart-protective chemicals such as flavonoids.
Contact your physician for more information on keeping your heart healthy.
Looking for some heart healthy inspiration? This vegetable soup recipe is healthy, delicious and easy to make. Team this soup with some crisp winter apples or pears and you’re ready for company. You can also make a double batch and freeze half for another meal.
- 2 teaspoons extra virgin Olive Oil
- ½ pound leeks, trimmed, split in half lengthwise, and well rinsed
- 1 medium white onion, chopped
- ½ pound carrots, thinly sliced on the diagonal
- 2 large celery ribs, thinly sliced on the diagonal
- 2 tablespoons dried lentils, rinsed and picked over
- 2 tablespoons dried split peas, rinsed and picked over
- 2 tablespoons dried small white beans, rinsed and picked over
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 2 quarts fat-free, reduced sodium chicken or vegetable broth
- One 14½-ounce can no-salt-added plum tomatoes, drained and coarsely chopped
- ¼ pound spinach touch stems discarded
- In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium-low heat. Thinly slice the leeks and add them to the pot along with the onion. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables wilt, about 5 minutes.
- Add the carrots, celery, lentils, peas, beans, thyme, pepper and broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Stir in the tomatoes and continue to simmer, covered, for another 15 minutes, until the white beans are tender.
- Stir in the spinach and simmer, uncovered, until wilted, about 3 minutes.
- Ladle into soup bowls and serve.
Calories: 130 calories
Total Fat: 3 g
Saturated Fat: 0.5 g
Protein: 9 g
Carbohydrates: 21 g
Dietary Fiber: 5 g
Cholesterol: 0 mg
Sodium: 130 mg
Potassium: 120 mg
Source: Cleveland Clinic Healthy Heart Lifestyle Guide and Cookbook (© 2007 Broadway Books)
The heart is the strongest, most important muscle in your body. Though all men and women face the risk of developing heart diseases as they age, there are some ways to maintain a healthy heart for longer.
Cut Smoking Out of Your Life
The carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke restricts the amount of oxygen reaching the lungs, causing the heart to supply extra oxygen. In addition, tobacco and nicotine include many chemicals that cause your blood vessels to tighten. Both increase the odds of a heart attack.
Start an Exercise Regimen
Exercising for 30 minutes a day will get your blood pumping and will drastically improve your heart health. It’s important to build your fitness routine around your personal needs. Don’t do cardio workouts that are too strenuous because it defeats the purpose of exercise.
Maintain a Healthy Diet and a Healthy Weight
Avoid saturated fat and trans fat, such as red meat, deep-fried foods and processed foods. Avoiding these foods will keep your weight down and reduce the amount of strain on your heart. The healthiest foods for your heart are fruits, vegetables, beans and fish that contain omega-3 fatty acids.
Consume Alcohol in Moderation
Consuming alcohol in moderation is great for maintaining a healthy heart. Men can consume two drinks a day to protect their hearts, while women can consume one. Drinking more than the recommended amount can have the opposite effect on your heart.
Get Regular Screenings
Get regular screenings so you know what is going on with your body. Being informed on your blood pressure and cholesterol levels will allow you to take action before serious damage to your heart occurs.
Consult with your physician today for information on how to maintain a healthy heart.