Living with a pet each day helps to keep the doctor away

by S. L. Baker

pets2(NaturalNews) Would you like to lower your blood pressure to a healthier level? Know you should exercise but need some encouragement? Bothered by anxiety or depression? Lonely? Researchers say there’s a prescription for all these problems and it has nothing to do with a side effect-laden drug. Instead the “miracle treatment” is owning a pet.

The University of Missouri (MU) College of Veterinary Medicine Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction (ReCHAI) is hosting the International Society for Anthrozoology and Human-Animal Interaction Conference in Kansas City, Missouri, this month to discuss the mounting evidence that living with a furry, four-legged friend has numerous health and life-enhancing advantages.

“Pets are of great importance to people, especially during hard economic times. Pets provide unconditional love and acceptance and may be part of answers to societal problems, such as inactivity and obesity,” Rebecca Johnson, associate professor in the MU Sinclair School of Nursing, the College of Veterinary Medicine and director of ReCHAI, said in a statement to the media. “Research in this field is providing new evidence on the positive impact pets have in our lives.”

For example, in 2008, ReCHAI sponsored the “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound and Stay Fit for Seniors” program. More than just a recreational activity with a cute name, this was a study which involved serious research into elders and the impact of exercising with dogs. One group of older adults was matched with shelter dogs while another group of older adults walked regularly with human companions. For about three months, the research participants were asked to walk on an outdoor trail for one hour, five times a week. At the end of 12 weeks, the scientists documented improvements in the older adults’ activity levels.

According to Dr. Johnson, those who walked with dogs improved their walking capabilities by 28 percent. “They had more confidence walking on the trail, and they increased their speed. The older people who walked with humans only had a four percent increase in their walking capabilities,” she said in the press statement. “The human walking buddies tended to discourage each other and used excuses such as the weather being too hot.”

Other research published last year in the Journal of Aging and Health by University of Portsmouth researchers in the United Kingdom concluded that interaction between humans and dogs enhanced the physical and psychological health of elders. And psychologists at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, reported in spring of 2009 that companion animals appear to help people diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). Their study, published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, documented that people suffering from poor health due to CFS had an improved quality of life if they had cats or dogs as pets.

“Today, pets are in more than 60 percent of American homes,” said Charlotte McKenney, assistant director of ReCHAI, in the media statement. “Research involving human-animal interaction can be extremely beneficial. More people are incorporating pets into their leisure time, such as making them part of their exercise routines, taking them to dog parks and bringing them to family events.” The International Society for Anthrozoology and Human-Animal Interaction Conference will bring together nurses, physicians, veterinarians, social workers, psychologists, physical and occupational therapists, and activity directors from around the world who are actively working with the human-companion animal connection and studying the potential health benefits.