There’s something special about the connection we share with our pets. We know how they make us feel, but research is starting to unlock the potential health benefits of this important relationship. Within a new study, researchers have found that owning a dog, can essentially improve the health of seniors.
As we age, we are more aware of our health, becoming interested in how we can protect our future. We focus on our diet, level of exercise, stress levels, and sleep patterns, but what about the interactions we share with our canine companions? It appears that there is a direct relationship between this bond and overall health.
Study Finds — Canine Bonds Benefit the Health of Seniors
Regardless of your age, it’s recommended that you engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week. For individuals over the age of 60, exercise is generally in the form of walking — it’s low impact, self-paced, and does not require any challenging equipment.
Researchers at the University of Missouri have found that seniors who are pet owners, significantly benefit from the bonds they form with their canine companions. Owning a dog means that you not only experience social benefits but physical benefits as well.
Related: The Healing Power of a Pet
A number of studies have already determined that pets are beneficial in terms of social and emotional stability, but owning a dog also appears to keep seniors more active. Based on this recent study, there appears to be a direct link between dog walking and physical health — no surprise there.
It was found that dog ownership was linked to increased walking, resulting in improved physical health among seniors. Those who displayed a higher degree of pet bonding, were also more likely to walk their dogs, in comparison to those with weaker bonds. This data could essentially be implemented into future health plans.
Overall, dog walking was linked to a lower body mass index, more frequent exercise, and less visits to the doctor. These recent findings continue to support a pool of data, associated with the positive effects of being a pet owner, especially in terms of the senior population.
Due to these positive benefits, policies and treatment plans could be implemented into care facility routines, allowing residents to access this potential form of supportive therapy. Not only would elderly residents be encouraged to walk dogs, but also get outside and in turn, improve their health.
What Has Past Research Found?
As mentioned, this research is not technically anything new — the benefits associated with owning a pet have been well documented. Within one study, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, autonomic nervous activity in healthy seniors was compared while walking with and without a dog.
What they found was that walking a dog, offers potentially greater health benefits than walking without a four-legged companion. In fact, merely patting and talking to a dog appeared to improve parasympathetic neural activity and as a result, a reduction in stress occurs.
Within another 2013 survey, it was found that of all pets, dogs are most likely to influence physical activity. In fact, it was stated that dog owners engaged in significantly more walking, being 54 percent more likely to achieve the recommended level of physical activity, in comparison to non-dog owners.
Choosing the Right Companion
Although mental benefits have been documented, the physical benefits associated with owning a pet tend to be linked to increased physical activity. Meaning, if you get a dog but do not walk it, you will not magically reduce your BMI or improve your blood pressure. At the end of the day, you need to be capable of caring for a dog.
Although you may mean well, a live pet isn’t generally the greatest gift. This is most certainly something that can be discussed with your family or loved one, but the primary owner should be included in this decision — owning a pet is a very personal experience. Dogs are a major commitment and although they most certainly benefit one’s health — they also need to be properly cared for.
When selecting a dog, it’s important to select a dog that will match the owner’s abilities. Some dogs require more exercise than others, and if an elderly individual ends up with a high-energy dog, they may not be able to keep up with the dog’s needs. One thing is for certain, seniors can offer one thing that many families and working individuals can’t — time.
As a retired individual, you can dedicate plenty of time and attention to your new companion. Before you bring home a dog, make sure you’re honest with yourself in terms of your current abilities. There are so many breeds — do a little research to find out which best suits your current lifestyle.
Remember, each dog has their own unique personality as well, so be involved in actually selecting your new dog, building that connection from the get-go. Although this will be a very personal journey, here are some dog breeds that tend to be great for seniors. Be your new friend’s hero and they will most certainly be yours.
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