Magazine article The Nation's Health

Want to Have a Healthier, Happier Life? Get a Dog

Magazine article The Nation's Health

Want to Have a Healthier, Happier Life? Get a Dog

Article excerpt

Dog ownership can be hard but rewarding work. After all, you're responsible for feeding, walking and providing care for your dog so she or he can live a long, healthy life. But you may not be aware that your dog is helping keep you healthier, too. Research is growing on the health benefits that dogs can provide for their owners, says Sandy Barker, PhD, NCC, LPC, director of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine Center for Human-Animal Interaction.

There are physical, mental and social benefits that come with dog ownership. When it comes to physical activity, owning a dog provides a number of ways to stay fit without you realizing it. Walking your dog outside or playing fetch not only gets your dog moving, it gets your arms and legs moving, too.

More and more research says that owning a dog can potentially increase your quality of life and help get you through life's stresses, Barker says.

As a benefit, studies have found that being with dogs helps reduce your blood pressure and heart rate. Owning a dog has also been linked to having lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

People with dogs also have better survival rates a year after a heart attack, studies show.

Dogs can also provide a sense of social support as people become busier or have fewer human interactions, Barker says.

"In one of our earliest studies, we looked at the emotional closeness between people and their pet dogs and we found that owners were as emotionally close to their pet dogs as to any human family member," Barker says. "And, actually, about a third of those owners were closer to their pet dogs than to any human family member. So we know that it's a very close emotional bond."

Dog ownership is also good for a child's emotional health because it gives kids the experience of sharing their feelings and emotions for another living being, Barker says. …

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