1. Dog-gone asthma!

    Sit, speak, and play dead -- dogs can learn plenty of tricks, if you're willing to take a little time to teach them.

    But the best trick of all comes naturally: Pets can chase away asthma and allergies the way a guard dog can scare off burglars -- and it doesn't take a loud bark or a lot of teeth.

    In fact, even a lazy old cat has this power -- because kids born to mothers who had pets during pregnancy have lower levels of the IgE antibodies linked to allergies and asthma.

    Researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit tested those antibody levels in 1,187 babies at birth, six months, and two years, and found that the kids who had prenatal pet exposure had up to 33 percent fewer than children from petless homes.

    The biggest benefit went to children of European, Asian, or Middle Eastern descent, who got the full 33 percent drop.

    For black children, the difference was only 10 percent -- but still enough to put them at least a baby step ahead of asthma and allergies, and that's nothing to sneeze at.

    Babies born vaginally to women with pets also got a bigger boost, with IgE levels 16 percent lower than C-section infants.

    In other words, pets don't always cause allergies and asthma -- and they might even prevent them.

    But while that means Spot can "stay" in homes with a new baby, there is one threat even the roughest, toughest Rottweiler can't chase away: mold.

    Having this stuff around the house could lead to a childhood of breathing misery.

    Researchers examined data on 176 children who were believed to be at high risk for asthma because of a family history of the disease. They also used a test called the environmental relative moldiness index, which measures levels of 36 different types of mold to create an overall "mold burden."

    And that mold brings some burden. Kids from homes with the highest mold burdens were three times more likely to come down with asthma during the seven-year study period than kids with little mold exposure.

    The researchers wrote in Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology that parents of kids at risk for asthma should make sure they find and fix water damage and get rid of all the mold -- which is pretty good advice for everyone else, too.

  2. Walking away from death

    Next time you go for a walk, you might want to move as if death himself is tailing you--because in a way, he is.

    And while he catches up to all of us eventually, a new study finds that slower walkers are more likely to meet him first.

    Researchers analyzed data from nine studies involving almost 35,000 seniors who didn't live in hospitals or nursing homes, and found that walking speeds were a reliable indicator of how long someone could expect to live.

    Yes, I started walking faster too when I read that.

    Overall, the researchers found that seniors who can keep up a 2.2 mph pace (that's 3.28 feet per second) tended to live longer than could be expected... while those who walked at less than 1.3 miles per hour (or less than 2 feet per second) tended to have a higher risk of an early death.

    And faster walkers were more likely to live even longer.

    For example, a 70-year-old man who cruises along at 3.5 miles per hour will live four years longer on average than a man the same age who walks at 3 miles per hour.

    Similarly, a 70-year-old man of that age who walks at 2.5 miles per hour will live an average of 8 years longer than men who walk at just 1 mile per hour.

    For women, those differences were even greater: seven and ten years, respectively, according to the study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

    The differences got even bigger as the years went on. The researchers say men and women at 75 who walked the fastest could expect to live up to 87 percent and 91 percent longer, respectively, than those who walked the slowest.

    If that has you itchin' to boost your own walking speed, consider having a friend join you... and not just any friend, but a furry one.

    One surprising study from 2009 found that seniors who walk dogs walk faster and more often than those who walk with other people.

    In that study, seniors who walked dogs borrowed from a local shelter had a 28 percent boost in walking speed over 12 weeks--versus an improvement of just 4 percent in those who walked with another person.

    And while the volunteers who walked with other people often made excuses and found reasons to skip their walks, the dog-walkers were eager to meet their canine companions each day.

    In other words, call your local animal shelter today--because they may have a life-saving walking buddy ready to meet you.

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