Dogs can make you feel better
MIND YOUR BODY - Dr. Willie T. Ong (The Philippine Star) - December 27, 2016 - 12:00am

Daddy, I want a dog.” How often have we heard our kids tell us to get them a pet dog? And if you think that owning a dog is more of an inconvenience rather than a plus in your life, then think again.

According to noted pet expert Dr. Diane Pomerance, the benefits of owning a dog outweigh the inconvenience, “Pets can provide us with so many gifts. They can increase longevity and improve the quality of life.”

Dr. David J. Demko, a professor of Gerontology and Research Methodology from the University of Michigan, agrees with Dr. Pomerance. He estimates that a pet dog can add two years to the life of its owner. How is this possible, you ask?

Well, according to several scientific studies, pets, specifically dogs, can provide several health benefits for their owners. Let’s look at some of the evidence.

For one, dogs can contribute to a person’s happiness by causing the release of happy hormones called endorphins, the brain’s natural anti-depressant. Having a pet also releases other beneficial hormones like prolactin, dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin.

Having a pet also decreases our body’s stress hormones, called cortisol. In 2002, The British Market Research Bureau conducted an enlightening survey on pet owners which showed that pets made them laugh and feel happier.

Good For Kids And Elderly

A study conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Children’s Hospital showed that dog visits made hospitalized kids happier. This was attributed to the children’s eagerness in expecting dog visits and the happiness felt by petting the dogs. Tests show that when a person strokes a dog, within minutes, his body would release “feel-good” hormones like dopamine, prolactin, and oxytocin.

Dogs also provide many health benefits for the elderly. A study in The Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine found that one month after acquiring a dog or cat, seniors had 50-percent fewer medical problems, such as painful joints, insomnia, constipation, anxiety, indigestion, flu, general tiredness, and headaches. The explanation is that pets give their owners an incentive to keep active.

Your Heart’s Best Friend

In a study published in The American Journal of Cardiology in 2003, Dr. Erika Friedmann reported that pet owners have healthier hearts. Friedmann, a professor at the Department of Health and Nutrition Sciences at Brooklyn College, found that pet owners had better heart rate variability findings (a measure of heart attack risk) compared to non-owners.

Can dogs lower your blood pressure? Probably, yes. One study conducted by Dr. Karen Allen of the State University of New York at Buffalo found that when people with high blood pressure took care of a pet dog, their stress levels were reduced and so did their blood pressure. In fact, a number of patients were actually weaned off from their medications.

Apparently, just the simple act of stroking a dog can actually reduce your blood pressure. Dog owners are happier, less stressed, and this contributed to better blood pressure control.

Walk With Your Dog

A dog can help you exercise and lose weight. You have to buy his food, prepare his water, and clean out his poop. A study obviously found that people who acquired dogs increased their amount of physical activity by walking or playing with the dog.

For people with arthritis and body pains, one of the mainstays of therapy is to keep the limb moving. The medical adage, “Use it, or lose it,” applies here.

According to Dr. Jeff Burgess of the University of Washington Pain Center, “Pets may help people in two major ways. By initiating and maintaining the relaxation response, pets can take people’s focus off their pain and elevate their mood.”

Secondly, through touch or physical contact, they can block transmission of their pain from the periphery to the central nervous system, shutting the pain processing centers down.” In other words, pets help numb and reduce your pain.

Of course, owning a pet comes with additional work, expense, and responsibility, which can also be hard work. But on the positive side, the health benefits of getting a dog are real and documented by the above studies I mentioned.

Think about it, next time your kid asks you to get a dog.

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