Can My Dog Make Me Healthier? - We Save Dogs Life

Can My Dog Make Me Healthier?

ONE OF THE newest trends in medical research focuses on the relationship between people and their pets, and the effect that this relationship has on the physical well-being of pet owners. Your dog can help tame a stress response that places your health at risk. The medical recognition of the significance of the human-animal bond and its influence on human psychological health is fairly recent.
The research linking heart problems to psychological stress is impressive. For example, a study recently published in the International Journal of Epidemiology involved eight years of testing. Research was conducted in the Whitehall district of London on a huge test group (73 percent of all civil servants working in twenty government departments). A variety of stress factors, such as marriage or other family problems, work-related issues, and monetary concerns were considered. The effects of stress were even worse than had been anticipated. Those men who were under psychological stress were 83 percent more likely to have coronary heart disease. Women in the psychologically stressed group had a still-frightening 51 percent increase in heart problems.
Another, larger-scale study conducted in Japan and recently reported in the scientific journal Circulation involved more than seventy-three thousand people aged forty to seventy-nine. People who feel stressed on a day-to-day basis have an increased likelihood of dying from stroke or heart disease. Probably the most important finding was that these effects even had an impact on the lowest-risk groups (women who do not have any other risk factors). These stressed-out women were more than twice as likely to die of heart complications than their more mellow peers over the time period studied.
So what does this have to do with your dog? The strong connection between humans and animals has become a subject of serious psychological research. Scientific evidence about the health benefits of such a relationship was first published about thirty years ago when psychologist Alan Beck of Purdue University and psychiatrist Aaron Katcher of the University of Pennsylvania measured what happens physically when a person pets a friendly and familiar dog. They found that the person’s blood pressure lowered, heart rate slowed, breathing became more regular, and muscle tension relaxed—all signs of reduced stress.

One study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine not only confirmed these effects, but also showed changes in blood chemistry demonstrating a lower amount of stress-related hormones such as cortisol. These effects seem to be automatic, not requiring any conscious efforts or training on the part of the stressed individual. Perhaps most amazingly, these positive psychological effects are achieved after only five to twenty-four minutes of interacting with a dog—a lot faster than the result from taking most stress-relieving drugs. Compare this to some of the Prozac-type drugs used to deal with stress and depression. These drugs alter the levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the body but can take weeks to show any positive effects. Furthermore, the benefits of stress resistance that build up over this long course of medication can be lost with only a few missed doses of the drug. In contrast, petting a dog has a virtually immediate effect and can be done at any time.
A large data base now confirms that pets are good for the health of your heart and may increase the quality of your life and your longevity. The benefits are not just short-term; dogs reduce your stress beyond the period of time that they’re present, and they seem to have a cumulative effect. For example, one study of 5,741 people conducted in Melbourne, Australia, found that pet owners had lower levels of blood pressure and cholesterol than did non–pet owners, even when both groups had the same poor lifestyles involving smoking and high-fat diets.
A fascinating study, presented at an American Heart Association Scientific Conference, demonstrated how the addition of a pet to your lifestyle can help. Researchers studied a group of male and female stockbrokers who were already beginning to show the effects of stress and were candidates for medication to lower their blood pressure. The researchers first evaluated the brokers’ blood pressure under stressful conditions by giving the research participants timed numerical tasks and asking them to role-play a situation in which they had to talk their way out of an awkward position. In response to these stressful tasks, the participants’ average blood pressure shot up to 184/129 millimeters of mercury (any blood pressure of 140/90 or more is considered high).
Each stockbroker was then prescribed the same medication, and half of them also agreed to get a dog or a cat for a pet. Six months later the researchers called them back and administered additional stress tests. Those stockbrokers who had acquired a pet were allowed to keep the pet with them when they took their stress tests and showed a rise in blood pressure that was only half as large as the brokers who had been treated with the medication alone.
Pets can actually help even if you’ve started to show evidence of heart problems. In an intriguing study published in the American Journal of Cardiology, researchers followed more than four hundred patients after they were released from the hospital following a heart attack. One year later the pet owners had a significantly higher survival rate than the non–pet owners.
In the end, it seems that dogs may be a more pleasant and effective way of dealing with stress and coronary problems associated with prolonged stress than either drugs or various therapies. Your pet dog may well be Prozac on paws.

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