||: At Home
Feeling good: the health benefits of owning a dog
They say money can’t buy love. But they’re wrong. Love is available for purchase at pet shops, animal shelters and dog breeders. Apart from all the unconditional canine love, company, and sheer joy of providing a good home for a pet, your dog’s presence also has numerous positive effects on your health.
Statistics prove that pet owners have fewer health problems and visit the doctor less frequently. In one American study of dog owning senior citizens, even the most stressed-out individuals made 21 per cent few visits to the doctor’s office.
Pet owners have lower blood pressure, lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels and therefore a lower risk of a heart attack or stroke than people without pets. The added exercise when walking dogs, combined with relaxed companionship, has the general effect of lowering our stress levels too.
Obesity is linked with a range of health problems, including heart disease and diabetes. In an increasingly obese and unfit society, our dogs provide us with an excellent reason for a daily walk. Walking is an aerobic exercise, which improves circulation, gets rid of excess fat and gives you a psychological boost. A brisk walk also releases the body’s own pleasure chemical, endorphin, which accounts for the feeling of wellbeing you have after exercise. Maybe dogs have always known what we’re just finding out!!
Obesity is on the way up, especially in children. One recent Victorian study showed 20 per cent of kids aged five to six years were overweight, while 10 per cent could be considered as obese. Children with dogs are more likely to play outside, and be involved in their dog’s daily care, taking them away from the sedentary lifestyle of computer games and television blamed for the rise of childhood obesity.
As well as the exercise, increased self-esteem and developing a sense of responsibility, children who are exposed to dogs and cats in the first year of life are less prone to asthma and allergies than children who’ve grown up without a pet. It appears the presence of the pet allows the child to develop a resistance to allergens.
Many health therapists work with the positive power of pets: dogs and cats are becoming more regularly seen in retirement homes, and on the other end of the scale, there are successful programs run for autistic children which utilise dogs to improve the child’s communication skills.
The health benefits of owning a dog were demonstrated in other studies (Friedman, 1980, 1995), which followed patients with coronary heart disease. These patients’ survival rates were significantly higher than those without pets. Other research has shown that people suffering a loss cope better with their grief than those without pets.
In an aging society, where more and more people are living alone, having a pet is a tremendous source of companionship that cannot be overestimated.
In 1996, an Australian study by the Baker Medical Research Institute in Melbourne estimated that the savings made by pet owners decreased use of doctors and medication saves us a whopping $800 to $1500 million a year. With spiralling costs, the same survey today would no doubt yield higher savings.
Yet, with all we know about the positive effects of having companion animals in our lives, pet owners are constantly coming up against apartment blocks and residential communities where pets are banned or at least strictly limited.
As the benefits of sharing our lives with pets becomes more and more obvious (and necessary), we can help reverse these trends by being pet advocates, doing our bit to remind the petless about the savings and benefits these wondrous, indispensable and very special animals bring us.