We all know the saying “a dog is man’s best friend.” As true as that might be, owning a dog/pet can have substantial benefits on your overall health. These benefits include improving cardiovascular health, decreasing stress hormones, improving physical activity and unique therapies for those diagnosed with Alzheimers’ disease and autism.
A correlation has been found between owning a pet and a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease. In a 2017 retrospective study done in Sweden, people who lived alone and owned a dog had a 36% lower risk of dying from a cardiovascular-related problems compared to those who didn’t (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-16118-6).
Whether you’re anxious for a major exam or stressed out from a big project at work, pets can counteract these emotions by helping to lower cortisol levels (a.k.a stress hormones) and decreasing heart rate.
Secondly, we all know that it’s easy to get lazy and rush to the nearest couch in sight after a long day of work. Owning a dog helps you stay accountable by walking with your favorite canine and getting some cardiovascular activity into your day.
There are a few benefits of owning a pet that I found especially fascinating. For instance, several canine caregiver programs exist that assist dementia patients with day to day tasks. These tasks can include helping to retrieve medication, reminding them to eat and guiding them home when they’re lost. Here’s a great article if you want to learn more or are interested in getting a service dog for a friend or family member with dementia (https://www.rover.com/canine-caregivers-dementia-alzheimers/).
With the increasing prevalence of children being diagnosed with autism (approximately 1 in 59 children), improving social skills has become essential. Various animal-assisted therapy programs currently exist to enhance social skills in children and help them interact with their peers.
I remember a specific time when I realized the powerful affects animals can play in our lives. Before I started optometry school, I volunteered at Braille Institute in Anaheim, California (yes, there is more in Anaheim than Disneyland). I started off assisting visually impaired students with using computers (checking email, using search engines, etc.). This was an immensely rewarding experience where i met some of the most inspiring people. The teacher of our class was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (an inherited disease causing degeneration of the retinal tissue). He had a guide dog, Tuesday, that reminds me of Oliver (golden retriever pictured above), with a slightly more mellow demeanor. Whenever Tuesday entered the room you could feel him bring in such a vibrant energy and everyone was instantly in a better mood.
We always think of school, work, fitness, diet, personal issues, etc. affecting our mental and personal health, but our pets can also play a vital role. If you have a pet, make sure to spend some quality time together and if not, definitely consider getting one! Your mind and body will thank you.