The Powerful Perks of Pets

The Powerful Perks of Pets

Fur, scales, feathers, fins, or shells: no matter the shape, size, or species, owning a pet confers important health benefits. By sheer number, fish are the most common pet in the United States, followed by cats, dogs, birds, small animals (think hamsters, mice, and guinea pigs), and reptiles. My parade of pets through the years includes several dogs, a cat, hamsters, mice, a chameleon, a turtle (pre-salmonella scare), fish, and guinea pigs. Loved them all.

Research demonstrates that pet ownership provides a number of perks:

Better Health. Interacting with pets or merely watching them (assuming they aren’t tearing up your sofa or chewing through a wall) can lower your blood pressure, heart rate, and levels of stress hormones. Petting a dog or cat releases endorphins and other “feel good hormones” such as serotonin and oxytocin from our brains. Pets can lower your chances of dying from a heart attack, lower levels of depression, and, particularly for older adults, they help keep your brain sharp, by forcing you to stay “present” when caring for them. They can be a distraction when you’re having a rough day—they don’t care that you’ve been fired or have gained five pounds.

Live-in Companionship. Loneliness can kill. Studies have shown the negative effects of loneliness are comparable to smoking, and about as dangerous as being obese. The band Three Dog Night was really on to something when they sang, “One is the loneliest number.” About one in four older adults live alone in the United States. Pets can be loyal friends. Most of us who have/had a pet would admit to unabashedly loving our pets (I certainly would).

Sense of purpose. We need something to wake up for each day. Caring for a pet checks that box. Pets rely on us for food, shelter, play, and their medical needs. Being a “pet parent” may add more structure to our lives, which is a positive thing. Pets give us something to think and care about beyond ourselves.

Exercise. Depending on the type of pet you have, you may become more active and more social. For example, research shows that dog owners walk an average of 22 minutes more per day than non-dog owners, and dogs won’t make up excuses about why they can’t exercise with you!

Social. Walking your dog provides opportunities for meeting people, and there’s a built-in topic for starting a conversation – right on the end of your leash. The proliferation of dog parks (they’ve grown by 20% over the last five years), provides an additional way to socialize your pet – and you.

Protection. Of course a dog, screaming bird, growling cat, or other pet that makes noise when alarmed or senses something out of the ordinary can help protect his or her “pet parent.”

Fewer allergies in children. Babies born into households with cats and dogs have fewer allergies, in general, than those not born into pet households, according to a study in the journal Clinical and Experimental Allergy. It’s thought that early exposure to pet dander and pet bacteria builds up immunity in children.

Jan Cullinane is an award-winning retirement author, speaker, and consultant. Her current book is The Single Woman’s Guide to Retirement (AARP/Wiley).

Why Relocating is Good for You

Why Relocating is Good for You

Writing about the benefits of relocating for a magazine whose tagline is “Find Your Ideal… Destination, Life, Home” does seem a little suspicious and self-serving. But, seriously, have you heard the latest? Relocating is good for you!

But, having had five moves involving three different states, and knowing those moves were positive experiences for me, I wondered what the literature says about moving. Is (voluntary) relocation good for your health? I decided to take a look and share my findings. The bottom line is it can indeed be a very good thing, for a variety of reasons.

Sharper Brain. With each of my moves, I enthusiastically explored my surroundings, sampling new restaurants, shops, parks, museums, local theater, and volunteer options, and embraced the challenges of fresh career opportunities. I’m not saying every step was easy, but relocating forces you off auto-pilot and out of your comfort zone. Research shows that novel situations enhance memory, and may even trigger the growth of new brain cells.

Move Your Body More. Our environment shapes our behavior. A location with nicer weather invites us to be outside and be more active than a rainy or cold-weather environment. Having lived in Maryland, Ohio, and New Jersey, I find that now (in sunny Florida), I’m outside a LOT: the ocean, walking paths, tennis courts, and my bike make exercising easier and enjoyable year-round.

New surroundings, fresh start, new sense of community - what's not to love about relocating? Besides the moving part!Friends. Relocating can facilitate new friendships, introducing you to unexpected and fresh perspectives. Those who decide to age in place may have established a good network, but over time find their support group may move away: job transfers, friends, and neighbors who no longer want to live in a cold-weather climate, children who moved away because of career choices, divorce, death, etc. According to research, feeling lonely is equivalent to the risk of smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day. With social media (and cars and airplanes), it’s easy to stay in touch and visit with friends from former locations. Or, bring your “posse” with you! Two friends from my previous location live in my current community.

Adult Children/Grandchildren. Let’s acknowledge that, for many people, moving away from children/grandchildren can be difficult. I have three wonderful, independent, married, working children with fabulous spouses who live in three different cities in two different states, and three young grandchildren (the grandchildren were born after our last relocation). We visit our children/grandchildren several times a year (and they love coming to Florida for some R&R). We are delighted to stay with our grandchildren if the parents want to travel (escape?) as a couple, we get together for major holidays, and when we’re with our adult children, they can go out to dinner and have “couple” time. The family thing (should we stay or go) is a tough decision for many people, but it works well for us. We know, should there be an emergency, that they are only a flight away. However, if/when we are in our “third act” and are no longer independent, we may move closer to them (just for oversight, not to move in with them!).Benefits of sunlight. Voluntary migration patterns are often from cold weather states to those with warmer temperatures. Although the negative effects of too much sun is what we generally hear about (wrinkles, cataracts, and skin cancer), our planet’s almost perfect, glowing sphere of hot gas does remarkable things for our bodies. Here are some of them:

In a complex relay of nerve signals, sunlight stimulates our pineal gland (a pea-size gland within our brain) to make melatonin, which helps protect our skin and regulates our sleep-wake cycles. The precursor of melatonin in the pineal gland is serotonin, the “feel-good” brain chemical.

We’re familiar with Vitamin D, the “Sunshine Vitamin,” which can be made by the body through the action of sunlight on our skin. Vitamin D’s role in the body is impressive, including: bone and teeth health by promoting the absorption of calcium; increasing the body’s nitric oxide production which reduces blood pressure and increases blood flow to the brain and kidneys (by relaxing blood vessels); strengthening our immune system and heart: regulating insulin; and helping control inflammation in the body.

Low levels of Vitamin D are associated with a higher incidence of autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis, Type 1 diabetes, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and autoimmune thyroid diseases. And, SAD (season affective disorder) seems to be triggered by a combination of particular genes and shorter days with less sunlight.

The average American spends 22 hours a day indoors, but we think we spend only 16 hours a day inside, according to YouGov, an international research company. And, a study published in Nutritional Research found that the rate of Vitamin D deficiency in the United States was 41.6%. Perhaps we’ve been too successful touting the downside of sunlight and ignoring its many benefits. Go outside and play!

Forced decluttering. Ah…how good does it feel to go through a closet or a garage, and give away/get rid of all of that stuff you don’t want/need? Relocating is decluttering on steroids. You feel lighter and leaner as you throw off the yoke of all unnecessary belongings. I found that moving to a house without a basement was truly liberating – it forced me to get rid of my Organic Chemistry books from the 1980s, and give away piles of things I wouldn’t use/didn’t need any longer.

Save Money. Moving to a place with a lower cost of living or downsizing to a smaller house can save you money. And, if you can ditch your car because you can either walk or use public transportation, you may be able to save even more.

You call the shots. Relocate before you can no longer live in your home and are forced to move. Most newer homes are built with “universal design” principles so you can age in place. No more low toilets, bathtubs you have to climb into to use the shower, or door handles that are difficult to turn. Be proactive, not reactive. And, remember – if for some reason it doesn’t work out, nothing is permanent.

We’ve all heard the quote about being more disappointed by the things you DIDN’T do than by the ones you did do. Change is invigorating. Embrace it.

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Jan Cullinane is an award-winning retirement author, speaker, and consultant. Her current book is The Single Woman’s Guide to Retirement (AARP/Wiley).

Decluttering is Good for Your Health

Decluttering is Good for Your Health

Decluttering is healthy no matter your age.

The Upside to Downsizing and Organizing Your “Stuff”

I’ve relocated several times, but until my last move, they were corporate transfers; i.e. I didn’t have to pay for them. I had a blasé approach to the moving process, knowing I didn’t have to do the sorting, wrapping, packing, or unpacking, and the ace in the hole was that there was always another basement to store my extra stuff. But, when I moved to the Southeast, it was on MY dime … and there was no basement. All at once, this packing thing took on a whole different dimension, and I discovered that, although not easy, there are many upsides to downsizing/decluttering. Let’s take a look at the WHYS, then the HOWS, then the WHERES. (One important caveat: I’m not talking about downsizing the square footage of your house; I’m talking about downsizing your STUFF. About 46 percent of Boomers who plan to move expect to increase the size of their new home or to keep the same approximate square footage, according to the Demand Institute.)

The Why: Benefits of decluttering

Decluttering is healthy. Period. You save time, are more productive, and are more clear and efficient when your life and home are decluttered. How many minutes/hours have I spent over the past years looking for hand-written thoughts about an article I planned to write, notes for an interview that would be handy, or a phone number I scribbled on a piece of paper instead of entering it directly into my phone? Too many. My office tends to grow little mounds of paper that miraculously reproduce on my desk and on a chair and an ottoman in the corner of my office. A study in the Journal of Neuroscience found that physical clutter vies for your attention and affects your ability to focus, resulting in lower performance. I have (empty) drawers with file folders and a closet with shelves. I have no excuse.

Happy couple decluttering by putting away.

Relive memories/find cool stuff. Cleaning out the “junk drawers” in my kitchen (I have two of them), I found dozens of “telescope” pictures we had taken over the years while vacationing in Ocean City, MD. How much fun to look at my three children (now in their 30s) as little kids and re-live those memories immortalized on a bit of film at the end of a two-inch telescope-shaped keychain. My kids and grandkids love looking at these unearthed treasures. You never know what you’ll find until you start going through your stuff. It can be a rewarding trip down memory lane.

Boost your mood/feel more competent. When I’m heading out for an appointment and cannot locate my keys or phone (I know it’s a big no-no not putting them in the same place all the time), it is stressful. Getting rid of the clutter and having everything in its place reduces anxiety and makes you feel in control.

Sleep better. A survey by the National Sleep Foundation found that people who make their beds every day (almost every day) and have a tidy bedroom sleep better and more soundly than those who do not. And, the ritual of turning down a made bed helps prime our brains for sleep. I am on track with this one.

Save money/feel virtuous. With the new tax laws, most of us will be taking the standard deduction, and therefore, getting no deduction for donating our stuff, but you can still use the internet, consignment shops, or yard sales to make some money. And, giving away your things to organizations or people who can use them makes you feel good about yourself. Plus, if you’re paying for a move, less stuff equals money saved.

Your clutter will ultimately become someone else’s problem to deal with if you’re not proactive. Not a nice thing to do to your family/friends.

I’ll be the first to admit that decluttering isn’t a fun chore, although I do feel freer, lighter, and more energized after making progress. And, remember: YOUR KIDS DON’T WANT YOUR STUFF! Well, perhaps if there’s a Rolex watch or Mikimoto pearl earrings or a 1964 Ford Mustang convertible, but probably not the treadmill or your Noritake Blue Hill china from 43 years ago (take it from one who knows). But, just in case, consult them prior to the big declutter (I did want to keep a few of my parents’ things).

The How: Starting the Process

Like many things in life, there is no one right way to approach your decluttering adventure. Some experts suggest you start in the attic or top floor and work your way down. Others say do it by category (e.g. books, papers, DVDs, flat surfaces throughout the house, clothing, children’s memorabilia, pictures, etc.). Or, approach the task by time: Spend five minutes each hour putting things in their proper place, or get three big plastic bags, and work until they’re filled—one with trash, one with recyclables, and one with donations. Then, repeat on a regular schedule.

The "decluttering is healthy" smile.

I started in my basement—I knew that was the place that had the most things I could easily throw away, give away, or recycle. Did I really need my Organic Chemistry book from graduate school? Or my broken basketball trophy from eigth grade? The outdated 52-inch big screen TV shoved into a corner? Nope. Those were easy decisions, and gave me a feeling of accomplishment. I gathered my three adult kids’ stuff I had saved from when they were little, put them into boxes, and handed them over to them, with the caveat that we’d hold onto one box each for them if they wanted us to do so. I spent 20 minutes every day decluttering. Long enough to make progress, but a short enough stint that I didn’t burn out.

It took a while, but it got done. And, I kept reminding myself that I was saving money by not paying the movers for things I’d never use anyway.

The Where: Who will take it

There are lots of options. I was lucky. One of our sons had a friend who wasn’t going to college but had a job, bought a house, and needed to furnish it. He came and hauled away our still-usable furniture and other items that wouldn’t be a good “fit” in our new house/warm climate. Friends with college kids who needed to furnish an off-campus apartment were a gold-mine. We put usable stuff at the bottom of our driveway on trash day; people would drive by and pick things up, like a Little Tikes basketball set (our kids were in their 20s when we moved). And, our trash company picked up big items on certain days with prior notification.

As their website states, “1-800-GOT-JUNK? will take anything non-hazardous that two strong, able-bodied crew members can lift.” My brother used them for a big basement declutter. They offer free estimates, and pricing is based on volume. 1-800-GOT-JUNK? claims they recycle and donate your stuff whenever possible. They do not operate in every zip code.


Shell Point Senior Living


Free pick-ups are possible. Contact Goodwill, Habitat for Humanity ReStore, Amvets, St. Vincent de Paul (they picked up a lot of my donations), Vietnam Veterans of America, your local Humane Society, etc. Of course, you can always deliver your donations to them. And don’t forget local places that help others but don’t pick-up. We have a place in our county called Emmanuel’s Closet that is run by volunteers and gives donated clothing to those in need. Donation Town ( is a handy reference for charities in your area that will pick up donations.

Sell your stuff. Consider eBay, Amazon, Bonanza, or Next Door (a neighborhood network). And, there are always consignment shops or yard sales. Just be cautious about people you don’t know coming to your home.

Have you seen those “Donation Boxes” by the side of the road? They are frequently for-profit textile recycling collection bins; the donated clothing is sold to recyclers that turn them into products like insulation or padding for carpets. A small percentage of their profits may be donated to a charity. If it’s a convenient way to dispose of clothing (I am guilty), I assuage my guilt with the idea I’m keeping my clothes out of a landfill; it’s estimated the average American throws away about 80 pounds of used clothing a year.

Let’s “cut the clutter.” And, keep Frozen’s Queen Elsa’s song in our head as we approach this difficult but rewarding task: “Let it Go.”

Jan Cullinane is an award-winning retirement author, speaker, and consultant. Her current book is The Single Woman’s Guide to Retirement (AARP/Wiley).


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