Fitness experts say one of the best ways to stick to a regular exercise routine is to have a workout partner who can help you stay motivated. For Ryan Fisher, that fitness buddy is a border collie mix who goes by the name Lionel.
Oak Crest, a community developed and managed by Erickson Senior Living in Parkville, Md., is a great place for dogs, says Ryan. “There are plenty of places to walk in the community. The nature trail is nice; the lake is great. Lionel loves seeing the deer, geese, and ducks. We walk the entire community three times a day. He loves it and it’s good exercise for me too.”
Lionel, a rescue, moved to Oak Crest in 2020 with Ryan and his wife Barbara.
“Oak Crest is one of the few communities that allows you to bring your dog. We moved in the day before Thanksgiving and he took right to the community,” says Ryan. “He’s normally pretty shy, but he’s finding out more and more people know him and will stop to pet him. He’s always been pretty shy but now he is mister social butterfly.”
Lionel is just one of many four-legged companions living at Oak Crest who take advantage of the 87-acre picturesque campus, which includes a lake, shade trees, a nature trail, and walking paths where pets and their parents can stretch their legs. Pat Paloni and her four-year-old dog Maggi love spending time out doors at Oak Crest.
“It is great to be able to walk around the campus and talk to other dog owners,” says Pat. “Lionel and Maggi get along and enjoy walking together. People love to come up and pet her and that brings me joy. I moved down to this area from Delaware in 2019 and finding a community that allowed pets was the number one priority for me.”
Oak Crest Clinical Nurse Specialist Lisa Burke says there are both physical and mental health benefits to having a four-legged companion.
“Owning a dog provides greater opportunities to exercise and get outside and socialize,” says Burke. “Regular walking or playing with pets can lower blood pressure and also cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood. Being with a dog increases levels of serotonin, the ‘feel-good’ hormone in the brain that relieves stress. Just having physical contact with a dog has been shown to reduce anxiety. And owning a dog helps to manage loneliness and depression by providing companionship and affection.”
A National Institutes of Health-funded study of more than 2,000 adults found that regular dog walkers got more exercise and were less likely to be obese than those who didn’t walk a dog.
Another NIH study showed seniors who owned dogs walked faster and longer than those walking without a canine companion and they were more mobile at home. And a recent study featured in the scientific journal of the American Heart Association, Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, suggests having a companion animal may help you do better after a heart attack or stroke and help you live a longer, healthier life.
Janet Hare and her 12-year-old Tibetan spaniel Chappy have lived at Oak Crest for five years. A native Baltimorean, Janet retired to West Virginia before returning to her roots.
“I call him ‘Happy Chappy’ because he’s so friendly. His markings are what is called the ‘party mix,’ which is white mixed with brown. He loves sitting out on the patio. Everyone that walks by and sees him says hello and wants to meet him,” says Janet.
Oak Crest Fitness Specialist Alex Beilenson says dogs are naturally social creatures and as such can make you feel connected. “Even just having a dog sitting in your lap can make you feel happier and more at peace,” says Beilenson. “Dogs are incredibly loyal. Once you show them love they will return that love to you for the rest of their lives.”
Kristel Donner says her dog Jensen, a West Highland terrier, has helped her stay active. “I have a garden plot and Jensen loves to sit there and watch me garden,” says Kristel. “There are days where I may not feel like going out for a walk but I know he wants to go, so it encourages me to get out there. Sometimes I also walk at night and I like the sense of security that I feel living here.”
Though pets are welcomed at Oak Crest, policies which include keeping your pet’s vaccinations up to date; having your pet leashed at all times outside your home; and cleaning up after your pet, allow neighbors without pets to enjoy their homes too. Ryan is currently trying to organize an Oak Crest dog-walking group to meet a few days a week to walk around the community to exercise and socialize.
“I really enjoy the companionship of having a dog,” says Ryan. “It’s a big responsibility but it’s worth it.”
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