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ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
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ANIMAL CARE
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'Comfort Dogs' Come to Emotional Rescue
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BONES & JOINTS
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CANCER
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CAREGIVING
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ER Less Likely to Diagnose Stroke in Younger Folks
CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
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Obesity Linked to Heart Failure Risk
Vitamins Do Older Women Little Good
COSMETIC
Wrinkle Fillers Need Better Label Warnings: FDA Panel
Mouse Study Finds Molecule That Tells Hair to Grow
Gum Chewing May Cut Craving for Snacks
DENTAL, ORAL
An Oral Approach to Heart Disease
Amino Acid May Be Key to Strong Teeth
Gummy Bears Join Cavity Fight
DIABETES
Findings Challenge Tight Glucose Control for Critically Ill Patients
Brown Rice Bests White for Diabetes Prevention
Laughter May Lower Heart Attack Risk in Diabetics
DIET, NUTRITION
Myrrh May Lower High Cholesterol
HELP TO LOSE WEIGHT ON A LOW CAL BUDGET
Eating Healthy : You Can Live Longer
DISABILITIES
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ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
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FDA Faulted for Stance on Chemical in Plastics
Environmental Chemicals May Affect Male Reproduction
EYE CARE, VISION
Decorative Halloween Eye Lenses May Pose Serious Risks
Action-Filled Video Games Boost Adult Vision
Kids Who Spend More Time Outdoors Have Better Vision
FITNESS
Higher Fitness Levels Tied to Lower Heart, Death Risks
Exercise 30 Minutes a Day? Who Knew!
Weak Muscles May Cause 'Runner's Knee'
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
Intestinal Bacteria Trigger Immune Response
Peppermint Oil, Fiber Can Fight Irritable Bowel
Gum Chewing May Speed Colon Surgery Recovery
GENERAL HEALTH
New Methods Could Speed Production of Flu Vaccines
Surgical Masks Could Prevent Flu, Maybe
Diet, Exercise May Slow Kidney Disease Progression
HEAD & NECK
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
Study Suggests Link Between Cell Phones and Brain Tumors
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'Comfort Dogs' Come to Emotional Rescue
HEARING
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HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR
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Lack of Vitamin D Linked to High Blood Pressure
More Steps a Day Lead to Better Health
INFECTIOUS DISEASE
Bacterial Infections May Succumb to Honey
Grapefruit Compound Inhibits Hepatitis C Virus
Swine Flu Now Reported in All 50 States
INFERTILITY
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KID'S HEALTH
Fussy Babys Could Be Out Of Your Control
Daily Exercise at School Yields Rewards
More Calcium And Dairy Products in Childhood Could Mean Longer Life
MEN'S HEALTH
Exercise May Prevent Prostate Cancer: Study Shows
Sunlight May Help Protect Men From Kidney Cancer
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MENTAL HEALTH
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Man's Best Friend Helps Mend Broken Hearts
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PAIN
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PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
Sleeping Could Help Women Lose The Baby Fat
Woman in America Are Delaying Motherhood, Study Says
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
SENIORS
Exercise Helps Reduce Falls in Young and Old
The Healthy Habits of Centenarians
High-Impact Activity May Be Good for Old Bones
SEXUAL HEALTH
SLEEP DISORDERS
Pay Attention to Signs That Say You're Too Fatigued to Drive
Daylight Savings: Not a Bright Time for All
Lose Weight, Sleep Apnea May Improve
WOMEN'S HEALTH
Bitter Melon Extract May Slow, Stop Breast Cancer
Steady Weight Gain Boosts Late-Life Breast Cancer Risk
Exercise, Weight Control May Keep Fibromyalgia at Bay
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Man's Best Friend Helps Mend Broken Hearts

Some recovering heart patients are getting a new "leash" on life as they gain strength by walking dogs housed at a local shelter.

The innovative program, called Cardiac Friends, is a partnership between ProHealth Care (PHC) and Humane Animal Welfare Society (HAWS) of Waukesha County, in Wisconsin.

"It's a great way to help the dogs and also help our patients too," said Jennifer Ehrhardt, a clinical exercise physiologist at PHC's Waukesha Memorial Hospital.

Motivating patients to get active and stay active can be challenging, she noted. But the year-old Cardiac Friends program gives animal aficionados recovering from open heart surgery, stent implantation or angioplasty a compelling reason to work out.

"We want to get people up and exercising as quickly as they can after they have some sort of heart procedure, if it's OK'd by their doctor," said Ehrhardt.

Exercise not only reduces the risk of another cardiac event but lowers cholesterol levels, decreases blood pressure and wards off depression -- a funk many people fall into when recovering from heart surgery, she said.

Any kind of aerobic activity a patient does is beneficial to their health, Ehrhardt added. "If people have treadmills or bikes in their house we encourage them to use that," she said. "But walking is a great way for people to get that activity in, and it doesn't cost them anything."

A handful of cardiac patients -- so far, all men in their 70s -- visit HAWS three times a week for an hour or more, taking dogs outside for some fresh air and fun.

Fenced-in areas on the property allow volunteers to play fetch with their canine charges, or they can take a stroll on a dirt walking path that zigzags through an open meadow adjacent to the shelter.

"We all enjoy the dogs and I think the dogs enjoy us," said Charles Christenson, a retired corporate pilot who had open heart surgery three years ago.

Christenson said he has a treadmill at home but never uses it. Instead he prefers working out at the hospital's gym and spending time at the shelter interacting with its canine residents.

"When you [first] take these little rascals out, they're scared," he said. "But if you talk nice to them, and treat them nice, pretty soon they're your best buddies."

Christenson and the other men in the program are some of shelter coordinator Sara Falk's favorite volunteers because they spend so much time with the dogs.

"The Cardiac Friends have been a huge bonus to [our dog-walking] program in that most of them have been so consistent and they are taking longer walks than a lot of the other walkers because they have fitness in mind," said Falk.

The patients aren't the only ones benefiting. Getting dogs out of their kennels daily helps keep them physically and mentally sound while waiting for new homes, she said.

Interest in Cardiac Friends is beginning to create a buzz. Susan Kidder, an animal rescue advocate and founder of the program, has received inquiries from shelters in Arizona and California. And this fall, PHC's Ehrhardt will give a presentation about the program at a national health care conference in hopes that other hospitals will start similar efforts.

"It's a great fit for people who can't have a pet because of their living situation," explained Kidder, adding that the program is about much more than just helping cardiac patients stay active. "It's about helping. It's about being needed. It's about making a difference."

SOURCES: Jennifer Ehrhardt, clinical exercise physiologist, ProHealth Care Waukesha Memorial Hospital, Waukesha, Wisc.; Susan Kidder, founder, Cardiac Friends; Sara Falk, volunteer coordinator, Humane Animal Welfare Society of Waukesha County, Wisc.; Charles Christenson, Waukesha, Wisc. Published on: March 30, 2010