What sets you free? Health professionals at Kaiser believe you should identify the activity that “sets you free,” and then take part in it as much as possible.
Do that and doctors think you will be far happier and healthier, and will need doctors and medical care a lot less.
At Kaiser health clinics, doctors have even put up a small poster in many treatment rooms that asks, “What sets you free?” It has a photo of a mountain biker in the foothills. The text describes people who have a zest for life and adventure – and don’t smoke – tend to be far healthier, live way longer and feel a lot better all the time than their counterparts who do not. Now get this: How would you like to get the same benefits for your dog?
These rewards are within every person’s reach. To get them, here are a few gems I’ve collected over the years, that bear repeating over and over, that you can clip and post on your refrigerator:
-- Hike, bike (or exercise) three times a week and generally cut out the bad habits and you’ll live 14 years longer (livescience.com).
– If you hike or bike (or exercise), you will have half the physical problems of those who don’t (Stanford).
– Exercise will lengthen your life no matter how late it is started in your life (New England Journal of Medicine).
– Exercise cleanses your mind, relieves stress and makes you feel good (Cornell).
Hiking, biking and exploring parks, national forests and wilderness can also create the mental dynamic where you always have something to look forward to. You thus become a positive force, where you wake up with a zest for what your life can bring. That can create the inner-makings that can help ward off illness and keep you healthy.
Now the personal revelation: The same approach can work for your dog.
You can help your dog live a very long, healthy, active and happy life. For fellow dog owners, I realize if you could wish for anything, it would be for your dog to live forever.
As I write this, our family dogs, Pooch, 14, a Heinz-57 rescue, is sleeping at my feet. His best friend, Buddy, a rapscallion of a golden retriever who looks far older, has a paw on one of my lightweight hiking boots. When I move, they’ll wake up, to make sure they do not miss out on anything.
They both know when I stand up, the chance of something good happening, a drive, hike, swim or an adventure, is likely just ahead.
Dogs, like people, need something to look forward to.
This was enough to keep my Rebel, partner across thousands of miles of roads, trails and hundreds of camps, going for 17 years. Before that, Sport, my childhood doggy, was with me on the trail right up to the end after 14 years.
Genetics and bad luck aside, this approach can turn your life into an event: Every day, your heart feels charged with superpowers, your mind clean and sharp, your attitude flush with enthusiasm for what is ahead – and that feeling stays with you, day after day, your dog at your side, for years.
This past week, on a trip into the Sierra, we trekked above a frozen snow-covered slope and I got the treasure of watching Buddy schuss down like a four-legged snowboader; it’s photo 12 in the gallery I posted of the trip at SFGate.com. On another hike, we found a pool at Deadman Creek and ol’ Bud was in euphoria to swim around a bit, and so was I to watch him.
Many people can discover this joy by accident.
You get a dog and quickly realize you have to take the dog for a walk every day. It doesn’t take long and you want to expand your walks, to explore parks that allow dogs on trails and service roads. That sets off the magic of discovery, to see things you never dreamed of, and next thing you know, you and your dog can hardly wait for the next walk.
That’s why people who walk their dogs a lot live longer. And dogs who have owners who hike a lot live a lot longer, too.
Hiking with dogs
Here are the best park districts and trails for dogs in the Bay Area and beyond. For a complete list of agencies, best trails and recommendations, see “Best wildland areas to take your dog,” Feb. 2, 2012, sfgate.com.
Best areas for dog: U.S. National Forests, Bureau of Land Management, East Bay Regional Park District, Marin Watershed, Marin County Parks & Open Space.
Bay Area’s best dog walks: Carson Falls Loop, Marin Watershed; Golden Gate Promenade and beach, Marina Green to Fort Point, San Francisco; McNee Ranch State Park, Montara; Carquinez Strait Regional Shoreline, Martinez; Mott Peak, Briones Regional Park, Pleasant Hill; Grass Valley Loop, Anthony Chabot Regional Park, Alameda County; Little Yosemite, Sunol Regional Wilderness, Alameda County; Pearson-Arastradero Preserve, Palo Alto.
Best to meet other dogs: Fort Funston, San Francisco; Point Isabel Regional Shoreline, Richmond; Bon Tempe Lake, Marin Watershed; Rancho Corral de Tierra, Montara.
Dog notes: Carry vaccination papers; keep dog on leash unless permitted to run free and responds instantly to commands; make sure dog has tags, ID with cell phone number, and ID chip implant; when driving, have water available; do not put dog in back of pickup truck unless safely roped in; when meeting other users on trail, keep dog to side and away from contact; vaccinate for rattlesnake bites.
To see more columns, go to: http://www.sfgate.com/outdoors/
This article appeared on page B – 12 of the San Francisco Chronicle
Feel great in the next 24 hours: Hike. Bike. Camp. Fish. Boat. Wildlife watch. Explore. Go to TomStienstra.com.
For the new edition of California Camping, go to http://tomstienstra.com/books/california-camping/