This will come as no surprise to all my fellow Boomer animal lovers...hangin' with your four-legged canine (and in some cases feline) pals can do wonders for your health.
note: I've replaced the word "owner" with "parent" - far more accurate
Studies show that having a canine companion is linked to lower blood pressure, reduced cholesterol, and decreased triglyceride levels, which contribute to better overall cardiovascular health and fewer heart attacks. What’s more, dog parents who do have heart attacks have better survival rates following the events.
Dog parents are far more likely to hit the goal of 2-1/2 hours of weekly activity widely recommend by health experts, because, "People love to be outside to walk/play their dog," says Kay Joubert, Director Companion Animal Services at PAWS, a Washington-based animal advocacy organization.
A study in the journal Gerontologist found that older adults who walked dogs experienced "lower body mass index, fewer activities of daily living limitations, fewer doctor visits, and more frequent moderate and vigorous exercise."
Which in turn...
3. Can promote weight loss…
Research has repeatedly found that daily dog walks help you lose weight, since they force you to into moderate physical activity for 10, 20, and even 30 minutes at a time. In fact, in 2010, one small study discovered public housing residents who walked "loaner" dogs five times a week lost an average of 14.4 pounds over the course of a year.
As we age, it becomes harder to get out and meet people. Not so for dog owners. Researchers have found that about 40 percent make friends more easily, possibly because the vast majority — 4 in 5, according to one British study—speak with other dog owners during walks. "Dog owners in particular tend to be a little more extroverted, or outgoing" says Joubert. "When you start to engage them about their companion animal, people tend to open up and really blossom. They want to share stories about their favorite friend."
5. Reduced stress
There’s a reason therapy dogs are so effective: Spending just a few minutes with a pet can lower anxiety and blood pressure, and increase levels of serotonin and dopamine, two neurochemicals that play big roles in calm and well-being. People performing stressful tasks do better when there’s a dog around, too, and studies show dogs ease tension both at the office and between married couples.
"Dogs push people to continue to do things," says Kristi Littrell, Adoption Manager at Utah's Best Friends Animal Society. "So, even if you’re not feeling well emotionally or physically, the dog doesn’t care. I mean, they care, but they still want you to feed them and take them for a walk."
Dogs help prevent loneliness and isolation, as well, which is key in staving off cognitive decline and disease. "It helps us to not just focus on our needs," says Joubert. "It gives us a reason to really get up in the morning. 'I need to get up and take care of my friend here.'"
Which in turn...
7. Helps prevent depression
It’s widely believed that dog parents are less prone to depression than the dog-less (and I believe this goes for all parents of all pets), largely because they seem to help in so many other areas of health and well-being, particularly in the elderly and chronically sick.
Additionally, therapy dogs—animals that do not stay in your home—have been shown to be effective in easing depression for a variety of people, old and young, sick and healthy.
Back in the olden days (the ‘90s), experts believed having a dog in your home contributed to children’s allergies. Fortunately, recent research shows just the opposite is true: Dogs and cats actually lower a child’s chance of becoming allergic to pets—up to 33 percent, according to a 2004 study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. As a side bonus, the grands might even develop stronger immune systems.
9. Reduced doctor visits
If you’re a pet parent over 65, odds are you seek medical help about 30 percent less often than people who don't have a pet: A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology established that animal-parenting seniors on Medicare "reported fewer doctor contacts over the 1-year period than respondents who did not own pets." And while cats, birds, and other animals were helpful, "Parents of dogs, in particular, were buffered from the impact of stressful life events on physician utilization."
It’s believed that dogs (and cats, actually) can help detect, treat, and manage a variety of illnesses and debilitations. A few examples:
- Some dogs have been trained to sniff out skin, kidney, bladder, and prostate cancer, among others.
- Service dogs are known to benefit people with everything from traumatic brain injury to autism to rheumatoid arthritis, increasing mobility and promoting independence.
- Alzheimer’s patients are soothed by dogs, whose companionship also seems to mitigate emotional flare-ups and aggression.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), just over 86,000 falls per year are caused by pets—88 percent by dogs. Falls can be cataclysmic health events for people who are older, frequently leading to serious injury (broken hips, etc.) and long hospital stays. If you’re looking to adopt, consider mobility issues, and make sure to take steps to reduce the dangers of falls.
You have been officially alerted....
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