By Dr. Joseph Mercola
with Laina Krisik
There is a special relationship that exists between dogs and their owners and it goes far beyond just the sharing of a home together. These happy go lucky four-legged friends also provide us with constant unconditional love, devotion, friendship and something else that might not be at the forefront of most people's minds -- health benefits. Their effortless ability to raise our spirits ranges from reducing feelings of stress and anxiety to helping with more serious stress-related conditions like heart attacks.
Unconditional Acceptance Goes a Long Way
Dogs are often used as a form of therapy in hospice settings, nursing homes and companions to the disabled. Pet ownership in the golden years has a positive effect on a senior's physical and emotional well-being, according to the Journal of American Geriatrics Society. Hospitals and nursing homes have begun taking down the "No Dogs Allowed" from their doors after realizing the healing effects of dogs.
For example, studies revealed that people on Medicaid or Medicare who own a pet make fewer visits to the doctor. The unconditional acceptance and love a dog gives to their owners positively impacts their owner's emotional health, particularly among the elderly. Some of these benefits include:
- Bringing joy and laughter to daily life, which in later years is often uneventful
- Giving the person something to do, talk about and think about, other than him or herself
- Providing a source of touch and affiliation
- Boosting self-confidence and self-esteem
- Promotes communication between elderly residents and neighbors
- Helps ease newcomers with transitions and meeting new friends
- Raises overall morale
- Encourages exercise and activity
- Helps people cope with illness, loss and depression.
- Reduces stress levels
Dogs Keep Hearts Healthy
Having a dog as a companion could add years to your life, as two studies have shown that owning a dog played a significant role on survival rates in heart attack victims. In one study, patients who were admitted to the hospital were evaluated for one year. Researchers discovered that the patients who were alive one year after the heart attack were more likely to own a dog.
To emphasize this point, another study on psychological factors contributing to the recovery rates for heart-disease patients, ranked pet ownership on top in terms of determining the patient's likelihood of long-term survival.
Studies have also shown how the calming and soothing presence of dogs helps with keeping blood pressure levels in the healthy range.
In one study, the State University of New York at Buffalo conducted a study involving 24 stockbrokers taking medication for high blood pressure. The researchers found that adding a dog or cat to the stock brokers' lives helped stabilize and reduce their stress levels.
Good for Stress and Emotional-Well Being
Along with companionship, dogs satisfy our human need for close physical contact and touching. This combination often induces feelings of stress-relief among humans.
Research from the University of Missouri-Columbia suggests the hormonal changes that occur when humans and dogs interact could help people cope with depression and certain stress-related disorders. An example of this is spending a few minutes of stroking your pet dog -- this simple act prompts a release of a number of "feel good" hormones in humans, including serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin.
Other studies showed that the presence of animals, especially dogs, reduced the anxiety of people facing stressful situations, such as dental surgery.
Running With the Big Dogs
The positive energy that seems to be a natural part of a dog's nature contributes to keeping their owners physically active. Not only do they get us off the couch and away from TV, but also motivate us to turn off the computer and get outside for fresh air several times a day.
The standing excuse for not exercising, "I don't think I'll work out today because I have no one to go with" doesn't hold much weight when you own a dog. Grabbing the leash and going out for a brisk walk extinguishes this excuse in no time.
As a matter of fact, separate studies reported that walking a dog contributed to a person's weight loss and that dog walking can be a catalyst for social interaction with other people, a benefit that can help improve our sense of well-being -- or even help us meet a future spouse.
Research points out that having a pet, especially a dog, is one of the keys to happiness and good health. It seems that a wagging tail and long-lasting companionship can help good health prevail.
Most studies prove that using dogs for therapy seems to be one of the most cost-effective methods of helping people with emotional challenges. They also state that people living without pets are exposed to more persistent fears, increased feelings of panic, experience more frequent headaches and take more medication for stress-induced illnesses than pet owners.
The inescapable feelings of unconditional love that dogs supply can provide you with good reason to practice the energy psychology tool Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), particularly when you are feeling down or stressed out. This psychological acupressure technique will help you channel your stress-related thoughts and leave you feeling calmer and more able to face your challenges. While tapping, you could say the affirmation, "Even though I feel lonely and depressed, I love myself just like my pet loves me."
This technique will eliminate negative emotions that sabotage health and replace them with positives. I recommend learning more about the EFT techniques through my EFT series on DVD or VHS. It only takes a few minutes to learn this technique with my free manual on-line.