With the New Year health trend in full swing, we’re all hitting the gym, foregoing the triple shot fat lattes and thinking more about how to improve our overall health and wellness. But between the new sneakers, dumbbells in each hand, counting calories and running straight to the gym after work, we may be forgetting one major aspect in our lives: our furry friends!

Studies and researchers have shown that owning and caring for a pet can increase one’s health and longevity of life.

The Queen’s University (reports courtesy of Giuliana Rancic’s www.fabfitfun.com) has released reports that those who own dogs tend to have lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Guess all those long, brisk walks in the park are doing their job!

Minnesota Stroke Institute conducted a study revealing that kitty lovers are at a lower risk for heart disease. So all the cuddling and cooing sessions with the cute kittens are keeping your heart healthy!

So since owning a pet keeps you healthy and fit, how can you return the favor? In winter, it’s hard to get out for those long walks or ball-throwing sessions with the pooches. But don’t let that stop you from working out and getting in some quality outdoor time with your prized pup. Let him come out and jump around while you shovel the driveway- maybe even throw some bright pink tennis balls so they don’t get lost in the snow. And depending on the size of breed you currently cozy up to, make sure they’re properly prepared for the elements, whether it’s a cute little sweater or leg warmers and booties. Keep them fit and moving, and don’t let them start to shiver!

(photo courtesy of my iPhone- this is my gorgoeus puppy Crockett!)

For the feline friends, if you do let them venture outside, be sure they come in every night during the chilly temperatures. Usually, this isn’t hard, since they’re dying for a warm place to curl up, but if for some reason they linger, consider putting a little blanket or rug on your front stoop for them in case they don’t get your attention late at night. Even if they’re out in the cold, that’s better for their little bodies than sleeping on the cold ground. And be sure to give them lots of food and warm snuggles as soon as you see them in the morning! Keep their heart rate up by dangling colorful strings- this will also help keep their energy level up during the day so they’ll be happy to snooze next you come bedtime.

Check with your vet and favorite pet store for more ideas about how to keep your pet healthy and happy during the long winter months while you focus on your own body, mind and soul.