I (Alan) spotted an article in Benenden Healthcare’s Spring 2018 magazine titled “Owning a pet is good for your health”. It suggests dog ownership is good for our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing and reported on various aspects of health citing research from a range of credible sources. Following Benenden’s headings I offer a synopsis backed by some of my own experience:
Pets support your mental health
Benenden cite research from University of Lincoln showing dog owning families gain a wide range of benefits, especially those with high stress potential, perhaps if caring for a child with a neuro-developmental disorder. Dogs also improve social contact, particularly by providing ‘me time’ for carers. The same research showed stroking, or even being in the presence of, a pet reduces pulse rate and blood pressure.
Dogs help strengthen social networks
Researchers from the University of Warwick apparently found people accompanied by a dog had increased social interactions, especially with strangers. This is certainly borne out by my own experience with Murphy. We have a wide range of friends and casual contacts – both of the canine and human kind – begun on our walks. Our most regular walks are to Whitstable Beach, Duncan Down and Victory Wood; we have opportunity for interaction at all of them. We often stop and talk to people who we would have no other reason to know (Murphy sniffs and plays with the dogs). Murphy is something of a magnet – so many people want to meet him … some of them are happy to talk with me too 😊.
Animals can help the immune system
A study conducted by Wilkes University in America found stroking a dog can have a positive impact on peoples’ antibody levels. Their work monitored stoking a stuffed dog, a live dog and just sitting on a couch. Only petting the real dog had any positive effect.
Pets can guard against loneliness
Benenden say we don’t need reminding about the welcoming sight of a waggy tail when we return home. Hamish was always very enthusiastic when I (we) came through the front door. Murphy is less demonstrative but is always pleased to see me whatever I’ve been doing and even if I’m a little late. Research by Ottawa University found dog owners were less lonely than non-owners. Dogs can provide affection and emotional support – both seen as factors in loneliness when lacking. Professor Mills from the university is quoted as saying “The non-judgemental presence of a pet can act as a source of support, as well as providing a constancy”.
Pet ownership is good for the heart
Some studies suggest pet ownership helps motivate people to take more and regular exercise. This has the benefit of reducing risks of obesity and cardiovascular disease. Murphy certainly gets me out at least twice a day with a morning walk of an hour or more – even on a wet day like today (we’ve had some soakings in recent weeks!). A study reported by the Psychosomatic Magazine found lower heart rates and blood pressure among dog owners. More research by the University at Buffalo suggested having a dog in the room lowered blood pressure more effectively than a popular blood pressure medicine when subjects were under stress. I am comforted by this as I’m sure there are occasions when Murphy’s occasional wilful disobedience raises mine! I have reason to be interested in heart health so thought I’d have a look at the British Heart Foundation’s website for some support for these assertions. These quotes are very encouraging:
“research from a team of scientists in Sweden has highlighted that being a dog owner is also good for your heart.
The study from the team at Uppsala University looked at data from more than 3.4 million Swedes aged 40 – 80 in order to evaluate the association between dog ownership and long-term cardiovascular health.
Their findings, published recently in the journal Scientific Reports, suggest that dogs may be helpful in reducing cardiovascular risk in their owners principally by providing new social support and motivation for physical activity. Based on information from individuals from 2001 on who had no prior cardiovascular disease, the researchers analysed data from their 12 year follow-up health checks. This revealed a 33% reduction in the risk of death and an 11% reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease when comparing dog owners with non-dog owning peers.”
The NHS could also benefit
Benenden’s article quotes Professor Mills as saying “Our recent calculations suggest that pet ownership saves the NHS £2.45 billion a year in terms of reduced trips to the doctor”. They also cite German research that found people with a pet had fewer trips to the doctor.
It seems to me there’s plenty of evidence. Enjoy your life with you companion and live long …. and in better health. If you need some inspiration for a weight busting, heart pumping walk with your dog start a search for inspiration here – and don’t forget to include your canine pal in at least some of your days out.