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Your Health and You

The research is finally in!  This year the American Heart Association established an expert panel of investigators who concluded that while the evidence doesn’t support prescribing pets to patients, it does ‘suggest’ that pets do help humans live healthier lives.


Whether it’s a dog or cat, fish, bird or turtle, it doesn’t really matter what kind of pet you own. Being around animals lowers blood pressure and possibly cholesterol, increases the likelihood that the owner will exercise which in turn reduces obesity, and— specifically with dogs— reduces stress levels.


Stress is a poison that disrupts the normal balance of hormones, blood flow, digestive functions and mood. We don’t often realize it but stress reduction can have a positive effect on the entire body.  Pets provide emotional and physical benefits to humans!


How?  First of all, simply petting an animal initiates a calming effect on the human body.  When something stresses you out, the hypothalamus, a tiny part of the brain, signals the adrenal glands to produce adrenaline and cortisol and funnel them into your bloodstream.  These hormones ‘tell’ the heart and lungs to speed up and in response, your blood pressure and metabolism rise as well. This is your body’s reaction to stress: everything from a heart attack, to running a marathon, to misplacing your keys for the hundredth time.


This response to stress also triggers the liver to release stored glucose into the bloodstream as well.  So, when the body is overwhelmed by stress, especially over a long period of time, its ability to function while under stress is compromised by unhealthy behaviors such as eating too much sugar and fat, not eating enough nutritious foods, not getting enough sleep, and being exposed to too many things that trigger a stress response. 


Being around animals has been proven to reduce cortisol production, help your body calm down and handle stress triggers in more effective ways. Several studies have found that being around a dog, petting it, and even watching dogs play can lower blood pressure


Pet owners outlive non-pet owners, and a study involving Medicare patients found that pet owners made fewer visits to the doctor than non-pet owners.  Pets also facilitate human interaction which lowers blood pressure as well. Dog lovers have much in common with each other and while walking their dogs often interact, even with just a little small talk, which often leads to some of the most stress-free conversations people have in hectic day of dealing with customers, employees, and people they don’t choose to speak with


Even the Centers for Disease Control acknowledged that pets can reduce cholesterol and blood pressure: as an example, a study involving New York stockbrokers with high blood pressure revealed that those who adopted a pet during the study experienced a 50% reduction in blood pressure and heart rate.


Pets also engage their owners.  Dogs and cats exude affection and unconditional love. Their playfulness and personalities often distract people in stressful environments, in pain, loneliness, and depression.  Many health care facilities now bring in trained animals to interact with patients to calm them and relieve them of pain.


Having a dog also has a motivating effect on owners.  Studies show that dog owners are more active, more likely to exercise at least 30 minutes a day, and less likely to be overweight or obese.  Overall, pet owners lower their risk of dying from a heart attack, and are able to successfully manage their blood pressure by sharing their lives with a dog or cat. 


Emotionally, pets provide a sense of stability and non-judgmental companionship. They are there when you wake up, and there when you go to bed – often times up all night to protect you.  They can also reset your foul mood with their playful antics and cute faces. Dogs and cats— to a greater degree dogs— are social animals who crave attention.


Owners who spend time with their pets are drawn outside of their own worries and troubled thoughts and into the moment with their pets – a welcome reprieve from stress.


While pets do not share the intellect of a human being they do feel many of the basic physical and emotional sensations we do and are very perceptive. They feel pain, hunger, illness, loneliness, rejection, acceptance and love among other things. They can feel these things in themselves, and often times can sense them in their owners. Dogs are trained to do a variety of tasks to assist people with disabilities and much of these tasks involve ‘feeling’ their owners and sensing their health status. Dogs are trained as ‘seeing-eye’ dogs, as companions for diabetics to alert them of low-blood sugar levels, and as search and rescue animals


Dogs can be trained to do so much more than bark at strangers! They are therefore valuable and important members of our community as well, while asking so little of us humans.


The next time you’re looking for a way to naturally relieve your stress, lower your blood pressure, and find the motivation to get out and exercise consider adopting a dog or cat. The benefit of pets outweighs the cost associated with their care. After all, can you put a price on unconditional love?