According to a new report from IMS Health, Americans spent $307 billion on prescriptions drugs in 2010. The main types of drugs prescribed in America are Lipid Regulators, which help manage levels of cholesterol, and Antidepressants. The rising costs of health care and prescriptions drugs are not only making it harder for the average American to look after his own health, but it is adding to the high levels of stress in the population. Forunately, there are many other ways in which people can improve their health without having to depend so heavily on medication.
Owning a dog or a cat is one of the safest and funnest ways in which someone can improve their health and adopt a more active lifestyle. Below are the main health benefits people can obtain from owning a pet:
-Lower Levels of Depression: owning a pet can be especially beneficial for individuals who suffer from depression. Pets offer psychological and physical comfort, says Teri Wright, PhD, a psychologist in Santa Ana, Calif. Owning a pet requires respobility and it keeps owners busy with simple tasks, such as feeding or playing with their pet. By engaging in these activities, owners keep their minds away from negative thoughts. Since dogs need care and attention, they make their owners feel needed and valuable, which increases the owner’s self-esteem. Dog are especially loyal companions who reciprocate love and affection, another important factor which helps reduce levels of depression. Moreover, a study done by UCLA researchers found that men with AIDS were less likely to suffer from depression if they owned a pet.
-Lower Levels of Blood Pressure and Cholesterol: pets are incredibly effective at controlling levels of blood pressure; in fact, they are more effective at controlling blood pressure than ACE inhibiting drugs. Although these drugs reduce blood pressure, they are not as effective controlling sudden changes in blood pressure due to tension and stress. A study conducted by researchers at the University at Buffalo found out that groups of hypertensive New York City stockbrokers who got dogs or cats had lower blood pressure and heart rates than those who didn’t get any pets. According to Karen Allen, Ph.D., UB research assistant professor of medicine, “This study shows that if you have high blood pressure, a pet is very good for you when you’re under stress, and pet ownership is especially good for you if you have a limited support system.” Dog-owners not only have lower blood pressure and cholesterol, but they suffer fewer minor ailments and serious medical problems.
-Lower Risk of Fatal Heart Attack: cat owners will be pleased to know that according to a study, people who own cats have a 40% lower risk of suffering a fatal heart attack. The team speculated that having a cat may reduce stress and anxiety, and thus protect against cardiovascular disease. However, the study did not examine the advantages of having a dog, but previous studies have suggested that owning a dog may have health benefits similar to that of cats as well.
-Lower Levels of Stress: according to a survey done by Mindlab International, 55% of people who spent time with their pets reported being more relaxed afterwards, and 44% were less worried about specific money and work-related problems. According to Dr David Lewis, a psychologist at Mindlab, “Interacting with a dog is a profound and effective stress reducer. It increases feelings of contentment and relaxation.”
-Decrease Risk of Allergies and Asthma: in the past, people used to think that having pets at home could increase the likelihood of children developing allergies later on in life. However, thanks to numerous studies it has been found that the opposite is true. Kids who grow up in a home with dogs, cats or farm animals, have less risk of suffering from allergies and asthma. According to a study conducted by James E. Gern, MD, a pediatrician at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, infants who live in a house surrounded by dogs or cats are less likely to show evidence of pet allergies. They are also less likely to have eczema; and they had stronger immune system activation. T
-Increase Amount of Exercise and Weight Loss: it has been found that dog owners spend more time walking than non-pet owners. According to a study published in The New York Times, research from the University of Missouri found that people who walk their dogs tend to be more consistent about regular exercise and improve their fitness levels than people who walk with other people to exercise. Surprisingly enought, dog-walkers tended to improve their exercise levels while those who walked with friends tended to avoid the workout. Moreover, a study performed by the University of Missouri-Columbia found that people who did not walk regularly could lose an average of 14 pounds in one year by walking a dog 20 minutes a day, 5 days a week. For more information on the best dog parks to walk your dog, go here.
-Increase Social Interaction: a recent study performed by researchers from Warwick University found that 40% of dog owners make friends more easily because of their pet. Walking a dog can make someone seem more approachable and increase the likelihood of social interacion, which can in turn improve their stress management abilities. Research shows that people tend to make more eye contact and have more people interact with them while they walk their dogs. For more information on the best dog parks to walk your dog, go here.
Sources: WebMD, UCLA, University at Buffalo, BBC News, The New York Times,