Pet Lovers Live Longer
It turns out that our quest for longevity may have a secret weapon. Numerous research studies by universities and veterinary schools have turned up evidence that supports what most pet owners have long known—having a pet as a companion brings healthy side effects.
A British Market Research Bureau study cites the reasons why pet owners themselves feel that their pets are good for them: Their animals made them laugh, offer unconditional love, provide companionship, alleviate loneliness and reduce stress—all benefits which point to the relationship’s life-extending qualities, and are supported by the science.
In a study by the University of Cambridge department of clinical veterinary medicine, for example, pet owners reported fewer minor health problems and increased physical activity than the control group. The researchers expect that these effects can be “relatively long-term.”
A study by the Minnesota Stroke Institute found that, over a 10-year period, owning a cat dramatically reduced an individual’s chance of dying from heart disease. According to Dr. Alan Beck, director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine, “The health effects seem to be very real, and by no means mystical.” Interaction with pets evidently reduces levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, while increasing oxytocin, the “love hormone,” that stimulates feelings of happiness. Beck observes that, “Contact with companion animals triggers a relaxation response.”
Medical professionals generally agree that owning a pet helps lower blood pressure, encourages exercise and improves psychological health. In part that’s because, “For many people, pets also provide a reason to get moving,” explains Rebecca Johnson, professor of gerontological nursing and director of the Research Center on Human-Animal Interaction (ReCHAI) at the University of Missouri, Columbia College of Veterinary Medicine. “How many people,” she queries, “would actually get any exercise if it weren’t for overenthusiastic dogs?”
Johnson even suggests that unconditional love and acceptance from pets may help alleviate societal problems, including widespread inactivity and obesity. In a study sponsored by ReCHAI, called Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound and Stay Fit for Seniors, one group of older adults was matched with shelter dogs, while another partnered with a human walk buddy. Participants were encouraged to walk an outdoor trail for one hour, five times a week, for 12 weeks.
According to Johnson, “The older people who walked their dogs improved their walking capabilities by 28 percent. They had more confidence walking on the trail and increased their speed.” The other adults, who walked with humans, only had a 4 percent increase in their walking capabilities.
Anyone who enjoys the companionship of an animal already knows the facts for which science seeks proof. The unconditional love and devotion that flow from the heart of a pet is good for us.
Linda Sechrist is a freelance writer based in Naples, FL; connect at 239-348-8222, email [email protected]