“Want a happy, healthy, long life? Then get yourself a dog!”
Our ancestors probably knew little about the health benefits of canines when they opened their homes and hearts to these loving creatures. However, new research has proved that owning a dog can not only make you a happier person, it can also keep you healthy, reduce your stress and help you live a longer life. Here are some of the health benefits that dog owners enjoy.
If you suffer from high blood pressure, don’t just pop a pill and cut out the salt – get yourself a pet! A study conducted at the State University of New York at Buffalo, deduced that dog-owning stock brokers (all earning more than $200,000 a year) suffering from hypertension had lower blood pressure readings than their non-pet owning counterparts. But the cardiac benefits of dog ownership don’t stop there; dog owners are also known to have lower blood cholesterol levels, according to the results of a test carried out at the Baker Medical Research Institute of Australia. Researchers believe that this is possible as dogs help relieve stress and tension – the main contributing factors in increased blood pressure.
Karen Allen, social psychologist at the State University of New York is not exactly sure what happens to a person physiologically. “There are lots of theories, but we honestly don’t know why pets lower blood pressure,” she says. “We suspect that having someone on your side – someone you can always count on, physiologically creates a better atmosphere.”
Stress, stress, stress. Stress dominates our lives. With our demanding jobs, fast paced lifestyles and financial worries, it is impossible to keep anxiety and tension at bay. Now before you sign up for that yoga or meditation class, take a look at one of the best stress-reducing solutions in your own home – your dog. Research has shown that pet owners tend to have lower levels of stress than their non pet owning peers.
A recent study showed that when conducting a task that’s stressful, people actually experienced less stress when their pets were with them than when a supportive friend or even their spouse was present! Researchers feel that this may be partially due to the fact that our pets love and accept us for what we are and don’t judge us or impose their opinions on us. So the next time you feel frazzled, reach out and stroke your pet – and watch your stress melt away.
Back on your feet again
Every pet owner knows how relaxing petting a dog can be. Now research shows that stroking a dog can be therapeutic and relaxing for patients recuperating from surgery – thus speeding up their recovery time. Several studies have shown that dog owners have a higher survival rate after an illness and dog owners who suffered a heart attack were more likely to outlive their non-pet owning counterparts. In fact, a New York study found that a pet affected the patient’s survival rate even more than the presence or company of a friend or family member.
Beat the Blahs
If you’ve been dumped by your girlfriend, been sacked from your job or thrown out of your apartment, don’t reach for the bottle. Instead, spend some quality time with man’s best friend and nurse that broken heart (and spirit) back to health. Yes, there is concrete evidence to show that when you’re down and out, your dog’s presence can help cheer you up faster than being in the company of a family member or friend. “Pets decrease feelings of loneliness and isolation,” explains Alan Beck, director of the Centre for Human-Animal Bond at the School of Veterinary Medicine at Purdue University. “A pet is someone you can share your life with. Many a person lives alone, and a pet can help such people fill that void in their lives.”
A 1999 survey that included over 1800 homosexual and bisexual men concluded that people suffering from AIDS were less likely to report symptoms of depression if they owned a pet – proving that there is something psychologically beneficial about owning and caring for a dog. Dr. June McNicholas, a health psychologist, suggests that it could be because pets improve our contact with other dog owners. “For older people, an animal can fulfil the ‘need to be needed’, especially in cases where the children have left home. In some cases, the social support provided by a dog is greater than the support any human could offer.”
Fit as a fiddle
Want to get fit? Forget joining that expensive aerobics class or pumping iron at the local gym. New research shows that pet owners that walk their dogs regularly tend to be fitter than other city dwellers without canine pets. The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, surveyed men and women in the Victoria, British Columbia area of Canada and found that dog owners spent more time in mild or moderate physical activities. Dog owners walked an average of 300 minutes per week, while others walked an average of 168 minutes per week.
Another six-month study by researchers at the Bassett Healthcare Centre in Cooperstown, suggested that when pet owners team up with their pets, they stand a better chance of melting away the flab. Eleven overweight dog owners and their stout pets took part in the experiment. The owners and dogs were weighed at the start and were requested to follow a low-fat diet. After six months, the researchers found that six out of the 11 owners had lost weight – about 3 pounds. Dogs did better: The average pooch in the study lost 5 pounds. The overweight owners, who had been mostly inactive at the study’s start, reported an average of 7 miles of dog walks per week, says Allan Greene, director of the Bassett Research Institute.
Owning a dog can have many benefits, as you can see; yet a dog is not the ideal pet for everyone. Keeping a canine involves time, commitment and patience. If you are too busy to care for a dog, don’t get one or it can add to the stress in your life. Yet for most people, the benefits of having a pet outweigh the drawbacks. Most pet owners would agree that adding a dog to their family was one of the best decisions they ever made.