When I visited my grandmother in her nursing home, I would always bring my pup Hachi. After catching up with news, I’d take Hachi to the recreation room to visit with the seniors. The whole room would perk up. They would pet him from their wheelchairs and share stories about the dogs in their past. It was amazing how animated they became! I loved seeing their faces so happy, and the visits cheered everyone up- even Hachi.
Could a puppy prescription be a new treatment for old age? The dog-lovers among us have felt this to be true for a long time. I have certainly seen the benefits with my own eyes – but science has confirmed that owning a dog helps you live longer and healthier.
In Stanley Coren’s Psychology Today column, he describes his recommendation to a reporter that doctors could prescribe dog ownership… and it even have it covered by insurance!
While that sounds great, I wondered – what’re the reasons behind it?
New evidence from research in Australia gives serious backing to the idea. The study covered over 4000 people who suffered from high blood pressure and between the ages of 65 and 84 – an especially high-risk group. They were followed for eleven years. Sadly, a quarter of the study participants died during that time, of which over half died as a result of cardiovascular issues.
What difference does a dog make?
When you look at the data on pet ownership, there’s an amazing message.
In the study of 4000 people, 36% owned a pet and 50% had previously owned a pet. 45% of those pets were dogs. It was interesting to see that the survival rate for those who owned, or had owned a pet. Having a pet increased longevity rates by 26%! Even having had a pet in the past increased rates 22% over people who had never had a pet.
The biggest improvement in life longevity was specifically among people who owned a dog and took them out for regular walks. Walking your dog is good for your mind, body, and soul.
Why do people live longer when they have a dog?
We know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States (and worldwide). There are many contributing factors to heart disease, such as high blood pressure, stress, poor fitness, and obesity.
Tackling some of these causes can make a big difference in lowering the rates of heart disease. Having a dog can definitely help with these issues too.
High blood pressure and stress are often linked together, and both do damage to your heart. If you’re under a lot of stress, it raises your blood pressure. If you are stressed, you are likely to have trouble sleeping. Lack of sleep is terrible for your blood pressure. High blood pressure puts your heart under extra strain, and too much strain can lead to heart disease. Yikes!
However, when you pet a dog, it lowers both your stress and blood pressure! Which in turn, reduces your risk of heart disease. WebMD
It’s easy to imagine how petting a dog can lower stress. It’s relaxing and calming. With your own dog, it nurtures that incredible bond and makes you feel comforted and loved. It releases the happiness hormone, serotonin, and fights stress.
Getting outdoors to soak up sunshine and fresh air is also beneficial to combat stress. Taking a walk without checking our phone and worrying about work is important downtime. We all need to switch off our electronics for some quiet moments.
Dogs help you stay active
When you have a dog, it becomes constant motivation to stay active. You might not feel motivated to go out for a jog for your own sake… but knowing that your dog needs exercise may be the extra push you need to get out the door.
The Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic activity a week – even brisk walking counts! Aim to be active for 30 minutes a day, even if it‘s achieved in two blocks of 15 minutes.
It’s the same for dogs too. Most dogs should be active for at least thirty minutes a day, and some breeds needs up to two hours. PetMD
Human and hound are well matched, and getting at least 30 minutes of exercise a day will benefit both.
Exercise keeps our hearts healthy, and along with a healthy diet, can prevent obesity. Obesity is another risk factor for heart disease and one that is becoming more and more common. Being obese requires your body and heart to do extra work, which is a strain on your heart.
Caring for our canine companions helps keep us younger and healthier. It’s especially interesting that even people who no longer have a pet still see the benefits! Having lived a lifestyle with a dog in their earlier years, they have known and experienced profound love and devotion that lingers long after their pet is gone.
Companionship in older age
Dogs are wonderful companions for us all, and they can be especially important for elderly who may be lonely. Having a dog who relies on them gives an important role and purpose in life. They may have lost their spouse and not have other family close by. Having a dog means they will get out of the house, go outside, and continue interacting with the world.
Taking the dog out for a walk is a great way to get exercise and stay mobile – which is important when we get old. It’s a link to a community of dog owners too, and a link to our neighborhoods. These ties are important to fight loneliness and keep the elderly active and engaged.
One elderly man at my grandmother’s nursing home saw Hachi and was instantly drawn to him. As he went over to pet Hachi, he started talking with animation and excitement– not to me, but to Hachi! I wasn’t surprised- I always talk to dogs. Later, a nurse pulled me aside to tell me it was the first time he spoke while in the nursing home! I don’t know whether seeing Hachi had triggered an old memory, or if he mistook Hachi for a dog of his own… but it was an incredibly touching moment.
In Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, Hachi brought a community together with his devotion and loyalty. In their own way, all our dogs do that for us. They motivate us to be the best version of ourselves, both physically and emotionally. We can learn so much from them about living life to the full!
It’s those lessons I am bringing to you – on the blog and in our online community. To reconnect you to what is important in life. Hachi can help in your journey.
Can you relate to these stories? Have you seen first-hand how a dog has brought health and happiness to the elderly? Let me know in the comments!