A Pet in Your Life Keeps the Doctor AwaySee also New York Times.
Sept. 28, 2009
Kelsey Jackson, JacksonKN@missouri.edu, (573) 882-8353
COLUMBIA, Mo. – Lowers blood pressure, encourages exercise, improves psychological health— these may sound like the effects of a miracle drug, but they are actually among the benefits of owning a four-legged, furry pet.
“Research in this field is providing new evidence on the positive impact pets have in our lives,” said Rebecca Johnson, associate professor in the MU Sinclair School of Nursing, the College of Veterinary Medicine and director of ReCHAI.
“Pets are of great importance to people, especially during hard economic times,” Johnson said. “Pets provide unconditional love and acceptance and may be part of answers to societal problems, such as inactivity and obesity.”
ReCHAI sponsors several projects that attempt to further the understanding and value of the relationship between humans and animals. In 2008, ReCHAI sponsored the “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound and Stay Fit for Seniors.” In the preliminary program, a group of older adults were matched with shelter dogs, while another group of older adults were partnered with a human walk buddy. For 12 weeks, participants were encouraged to walk on an outdoor trail for one hour, five times a week. At the end of the program, researchers measured how much the older adults’ activity levels improved.
“The older people who walked their dogs improved their walking capabilities by 28 percent,” Johnson said. “They had more confidence walking on the trail, and they increased their speed. The older people who walked with humans only had a 4 percent increase in their walking capabilities. The human walking buddies tended to discourage each other and used excuses such as the weather being too hot.”
“Today, pets are in more than 60 percent of American homes,” said Charlotte McKenney, assistant director of ReCHAI. “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.”
I can attest to this. I considered walking with a dog as exercise, whereas walking alone was just a means of getting from one place to another.
I miss walking Kane the German Shepherd. He died on Monday and I miss him (see his blog). He was a wonderful walking companion when he was still fit.