Yes: Dogs Can Improve Your Health
If you’re concerned about your health—as you should be—here’s a simple way to gain a new leash on life: Get a dog. Science supports the belief that dogs can improve your health.
Recent research has proven what you’ve already learned if you’ve ever had a Golden Retriever lick your face—a dog can make you feel better instantly. No wonder therapy dogs are a common sight in hospitals, nursing homes, and disaster areas. These four-legged psychologists and physicians are on call 24/7 and can provide drug-free relief for almost anything that ails you. Here’s what you might gain in return for a daily walk and a few Scooby snacks:
- A leaner, stronger body. In a study at the University of Missouri-Columbia, participants who walked a dog for 20 minutes five days a week lost an average of 14 pounds over the course of a year.
- Lower blood pressure. Researchers at the University of South Carolina, Columbia have found that people experience lower blood pressure when petting or speaking to an animal. Other studies comparing dog owners and non-dog owners show that people with pets tend to have lower blood pressures and resting heart rates.
- Fewer allergies. Children tend to have lower rates of asthma and allergies if they grow up with a dog in the house, according to research published in the journal Pediatrics.
- More exercise. A meta-analysis of 29 studies reported in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health determined that on average 60 percent of dog owners walk their dogs four times a week for a total of 160 minutes, which is much more weekly exercise than the average person gets who doesn’t own a dog.
- Greater self-esteem. Owning a dog can boost your feelings of self-worth, according to a study in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society. Researchers studying senior citizens say taking care of a dog may give the elderly a sense of responsibility and purpose that contributes to well being.
- Fewer illnesses. Researchers reporting in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology monitored the lifestyles and health status of roughly 1,000 Medicare patients and found that pet owners went to see a doctor for treatment 30 percent fewer times than people who didn’t own pets. And dog owners had the fewest doctor visits of all. The study authors say dogs may reduce the psychological stress that often exacerbates symptoms of minor illnesses. Other research at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania has shown that petting a dog boosted study subjects’ secretion of the immune-system antibody immunoglobulin A, which may help ward off disease.
- Improved job performance. Dogs can improve your health by improving job performance? Apparently so: A study at Virginia Commonwealth University demonstrated that office workers who interacted with dogs on the job significantly decreased their stress levels and improved their productivity.
- Better heart health. Even your arteries may benefit from the calming effect of a dog. Several studies have linked dog ownership to lower levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, according to the American Heart Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And while it didn’t necessarily involve dog owners, a landmark study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that people who walked 30 minutes or more at a moderate pace on five or more days a week had a 30 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease, compared with those who didn’t walk regularly. Get a dog and you’ll be forced to walk regularly or risk pee stains on your carpet.
- More friends. It’s difficult to walk your dog in your neighborhood and not meet a new friend. Consider this when it comes to how dogs can improve your health: Researchers from Harvard T.H.Chan School of Public Health surveyed 2,700 men and women in four cities and found that pet owners were 60 percent more likely than non-pet owners to become acquainted with people in their neighborhood that they had not met before. And who knows, owning a dog might even get you a date. A survey of 1,000 people conducted recently by a British matchmaking service found that owners of dogs are more attractive than people who don’t own dogs – or people who own cats.
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