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"Man's Best Friend" May Be a Powerful Health Tonic

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The bond between humans and animals has been well documented. We’ve all seen videos of animal performing heroic deeds to help a human in need and humans working desperately to save a dog who fell down a well or save a whale or dolphin entangled in nylon netting. According to Dr. Ann Berger, a physician and researcher at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center, “The bond between animals and humans is part of our evolution, and it’s very powerful.” But only recently has science begun to study the human-animal bond.

According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), owning a pet may have the following health benefits:

  • Decrease blood pressure
  • Lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels
  • Reduce feelings of loneliness
  • Increase opportunities for exercise and getting outdoors
  • Improve opportunities for socialization

In a scientific statement, the American Heart Association declared that having a pet might lower you risk of heart disease. “Pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, is probably associated with a decreased risk of heart disease” said Glenn N. Levine, M.D., professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Although they didn’t go so far as to say that owning a pet directly attributed to the lower risk, the statement noted that research shows that:

  • Dog owners were 54 percent more likely to get the recommended level of physical activity than non-dog owners.
  • Owning pets may be associated with lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels and obesity.
  • Pets can have a positive effect on the body’s reactions to stress.

In another study conducted by psychologists at Miami University and St. Louis University, researchers discovered that pet ownership let to better overall health and well-being. “Specifically, pet owners had greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, tended to be less lonely, were more conscientious, were more extraverted, tended to be less fearful and tended to be less preoccupied than non-owners,” according to Allen R. McConnell, PhD and lead researcher.

With so much evidence that points to an increased sense of health and well-being among pet owners, it makes sense that animals are now being used as tools of therapy for individuals living with a variety of chronic conditions. For instance, studies with Alzheimer’s patients have shown that interaction with animals can reduce agitation, increase positive social behavior (smiling, laughing, and talking) and improve appetites. That’s why animals are now commonly used for therapeutic purposes in hospitals, senior living communities, and even in hospice settings.

So, when giving Fido a treat for sitting or shaking your hand or rolling over, recognize that his simple existence in your life is enriching it ways you never even imagined.

Reprinted with permission. Copyright 2015, IlluminAge.   

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