Owning a pet may provide key to a longer, happier life

  23 November 2018    Read: 2444
Owning a pet may provide key to a longer, happier life

Do you have an animal in your home? Chances are good that if you do, you’ll live a longer, healthier and happier life, according to experts.

Dogs in particular are important for the 50 and older group. Our furry canine friends keep people connected in their communities, keep us moving, and provide valuable companionship.

“I think one of the biggest issues facing seniors is loneliness and having an animal certainly does help with that,” said Dr. Asha Shajahan, a family physician at Beaumont Health and Assistant Professor at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine. “Loneliness is responsible for issues with anxiety and depression and those things that trigger other chronic disease processes. Having an animal like a dog can help.”

Studies have shown that daily interaction with an animal, particularly a dog, releases the anti-stress, calming hormone oxytocin in animals and humans. It’s a great way of combating depression and relaxing anxiety without the use of medications.

South African researchers Johannes Odendaal and Roy Meintjes first demonstrated the reciprocal release of endorphins (oxytocin and dopamine) in studies they conducted with humans and dogs in 2003. Petting dogs also results in decreased levels of the primary stress hormone cortisol.

Additionally, Swedish researcher Linda Handlin showed that when women interacted with their dogs, the oxytocin-promoting bonding was similar to that produced when mothers nursed their newborns.

Volunteer Sarina Light, 46, brings her therapy dog, Sunny, a mix of Papillion and Chihuahua, to the Madison Heights Older Adult Center every week. Sunny, a boy, provides calm for Light, who said she has Asperger’s Syndrome. And for the seniors, the dog brings joy, she said. “This dog has an amazing power to help people,” she said.

Beyond emotional health, having a dog can provide physical benefits as well. Research shows that owning a dog promotes walking, considered the best form of exercise for people ages 50 and older. Regular walking helps curb the symptoms of arthritis, flexibility and joint pain. Walking is good for the heart and weight loss, and there’s been studies that show if you have a pet you are more likely to have lower cholesterol and triglyceride rates.

If you’re not a dog person, you can still benefit from owning an animal. Although the research focused on dogs, experts see benefits with owning cats, birds, fish and other pets. Cats are independent and can be aloof, but when they sit on your lap, this interaction provides stress relief.

“Having a fish can be helpful in the sense that you’re still taking care of something. You’re feeding something, you’re watching something, and it’s a distraction from daily boredom. There’s been some studies that have compared watching a fish to listening to music. It distracts the brain from worrying,” Shajahan said.

Owning a pet also provides a sense of purpose, which is especially important to seniors faced with depression and other mental health issues. “They might have lost a loved one or they don’t feel as youthful as they used to. Having a pet like a dog or a cat they that they can take care of, pick up and walk and play with builds their confidence and improves their quality of life,” Shajahan said.


Read the original article on voicenews.com.

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