Written by Emma McDowell
A recent study conducted by the University of St. Andrews in Scotland has found that dog owners aged 65 and over act around a decade younger than they actually are.
It was discovered that participants of the study who had a canine companion displayed an increased amount of physical activity compared to those who did not have a four-legged friend.
Lead author of the study, Dr Zhiqiang Feng stated that, “If you have a dog in the home, your physical activity is roughly equivalent to a person ten years younger. It may not add a decade to your life, but it is very beneficial – it is all about getting up and out and about.”
The study is profound in that it highlights the positive impact that a pet pooch can have on people during later life, not only physically but by also providing a wealth of benefits in terms of mental health too. The companionship of a dog encourages greater confidence when venturing outdoors, surpassing the difficult barriers often associated with going out such as poor weather conditions and the worry of safety, particularly when alone. Dogs also help to encourage social interaction with others which can help hugely if a person is feeling anxious, lonely or isolated. Dogs are unassuming and are not judgemental in the way that we are and so do not comprehend the barriers of social interaction in the ways that we do. Where we may feel it is rude or out of character to approach a stranger for a chat, a dog has no such concern and will often be the catalyst for anything from a happy hello to a full-blown conversation!
In the same way that dogs are brilliant for social interaction, they are also professionals in the art of bringing a smile to your face. With their playful, inquisitive and sometimes naughty child-like natures, it is the hardest thing to not be amused and endeared by the antics of a dog. It is their individual personalities and loyal natures that provide so many people with both love and laughter, a feeling treasured by all. These are feelings that are especially cherished by older people who have experienced bereavement or who feel isolated due to ill-health or mobility problems. One of our basic human desires is to have contact with another living being; to love and to be loved. Dogs are perfect in the way that they offer an unconditional and mutual affection. They share our happiest times with us and our saddest, often mirroring our emotions as a kind of silent yet strong support system. On a down day, a cuddle from your dog can be one of the most calming and reassuring things to have. In fact, many people actually talk to their dogs about everything from the weather and the washing up to money worries and health problems which acts as a form of therapy for the owner in that they are able to voice whatever is on their mind to a constant listening ear.
Pets4Homes, the UK’s leading advertising website for pets from reputable breeders and rescue homes strongly advocates the benefits of having a canine companion. In terms of making an older person healthier and happier, they identified that dogs can help to:
- Lower depression – people who share their lives with a pet pooch have the benefit of constant companionship.
- Lower blood pressure – it is believed that dog owners are more inclined to manage stressful situations in a much better way than those who do not own a dog.
- Increase the levels of serotonin and dopamine in the body – simply put, these are happy chemicals in our body that rise when playing and having fun with a dog.
- Lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels – these are both well-known indicators of heart disease.
- Heighten the chance of surviving a heart attack – because owning a dog helps to lower the above mentioned chemicals, should you suffer a heart attack, your heart stands a much better chance of making a good recovery.
- Lessen your visits to the doctor – research has found that dog owners over 65 actually felt less inclined to visit their local GP – studies showed the figure was as high as 30% fewer visits!
- Provide structured routine to life – making sure your dog is walked every morning or every evening (even both!), fed properly each day and well taken care of provides people with motivation. This is particularly beneficial for people who have retired as it helps to boost both optimism and morale.
- Improve self-esteem – a furry four-legged friend will love you know matter what – to them, you are, by far, one of the best things in existence (aside from a doggy treat!)
So, if you don’t have a dog, now might be a great time to consider getting one!