Tuesday 23 January 2018

Pawesome power of a furry friend

Doctors have been told to prescribe a a dog to combat ageing. It sounds barking, but Bairbre Power is all for it

Health kick: Bairbre Power likes to take her dog Romy for walks around Howth
Health kick: Bairbre Power likes to take her dog Romy for walks around Howth
Howth - where Bairbre and Romy take their walks

Poor Romy, I have the paws walked off her, but I'm pretty sure she's not complaining. Up with the larks, we are out there most mornings by 7am in the summer to make the most of the morning light, which has been truly stunning for the last few months. You really should try it.

Our pre-breakfast ritual is a 30 minute walk - nothing too vigorous mind, just a few laps of the park beside my home. It's a ritual we both enjoy and I enjoy what follows - a slowly brewed coffee before I begin my assault on the rest of the day.

I used to envy the mental strength and resolve of writer friends who got up at 5am in order to write for two hours before they went to work. I've always been a morning person, but thanks to Romy, I've discovered this 'secret window of the day' and the value of these extra hours which most people sleep through.

Some people might call it mindfulness, but I don't have a title for what these walks bring to me, which are now a key part of my day - a time to empty my brain and park those 'next day' mental lists that inevitably swirl around my head before it hits the pillow. With every step, I'm acutely aware that these walks are good for both the heart and the soul.

If I started out on these walks focussing on my heart, weight loss and fitness, I'm now looking at the bigger picture.

And when I read this week that researchers at the University of Cambridge have recommended people be given dogs on prescription to stave off the problems associated with ageing, I wasn't a bit surprised.

The scientists found that owning or walking a dog was one of the most effective ways to beat the usual decline in activity in later life, and I couldn't agree more.

It's not just the physical benefits, either - being out in nature with your dog means you often start your day with a completely different life experience.

The other morning, I was so transfixed by the scenery I spotted at 6.30am in Tullow, Co Carlow, I couldn't resist making a short video to post it up on Instagram for those souls starting Monday by flipping from bed to crowded bus in a matter of minutes.

Yes, indeed, morning walks are now a religious seven days a week ritual and, if I'm lucky, I'll get to replicate the experience again with Romy at the end of the day.

If anyone spotted two lunatics jumping around on Sandymount Beach at 9.15pm on Monday night, stepping out into the fabulous peach evening light unfolding across Dublin Bay, that was the pair of us again, switching up the routine from parkland to beach.

As a desk-bound journalist, I'm uber aware of my largely sedentary lifestyle and how, because of our weather, we've tended to live so much of it indoors. However, thanks to Romy, one long look from those impossibly gorgeous brown doggie eyes is usually enough to get me off the couch and reaching for my coat.

Dog lead and mobile phone for security, I've changed up the routine so there are now no media intrusions. Before, I was all about the headphones and listening to news, music and podcasts. Now it's all about me and the dog, quiet time for my head and good exercise for the body to set me up for later life.

As a Dubliner, walking the dog has given me another gift - of exploring my native city and at weekends, we could spend hours on the go, with frequent pit stops. Thankfully, Romy is small enough to be carried if she gets tired.

Another favourite adventure for the two of us is the Bray to Greystones coastal walk followed by open air breakfast at the Happy Pear, but the key to this is doing it early. A trip along Vico Road, Ireland's answer to the Bay of Naples, followed by a green juice at Select Stores in Dalkey is another favourite of ours and a lap of the Hill of Howth on a sunny day is good for the soul.

Romy may look like a puppy, but she's seven - in dog years, that's middle aged so on those walks, we have a lot in common.

Irish Independent

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