Although the debate rages on as to whether dogs are mankind’s best friend, it is nevertheless clear – particularly among older adults – that people really love their pets. In fact, the National Poll on Healthy Aging (sponsored by AARP and the University of Michigan) recently surveyed over 2,000 adults between the ages of 50 and 80. Among those who have one or more pets:

  • 88% said their pet helps them enjoy life
  • 86% reported their pet makes them feel loved
  • 79% indicated their pet helps them reduce their stress
  • 78% of dog owners (and 64% overall) stated that their dog contributes to keeping them physically active
  • 73% acknowledged their pet provides them with a sense of purpose
  • 65% noted that their pet helps them connect with other people
  • 60% reported that their pet assists them in coping with physical and emotional problems
  • 34% said that their pet helps them take their mind off their physical pain

In addition, among those surveyed who either live alone or whose physical health was fair or poor, a much higher percentage (72% vs. 60% overall) said that their pet helps them cope with physical and emotional problems. Similarly, a higher percentage of those who live alone (43% vs. 34%) or who are in fair or poor health (46% vs. 34%) also indicated that their pet helps them take their mind off of their physical pain.

The Benefits of Having a Pet – Especially a Dog

Apart from how people feel about their pets, Attorney Greg Bishop notes that recent studies have determined that there are objective health benefits for older adults who have pets – particularly dogs. For example: 

1. Pets Can Help Increase Physical Activity

A recent U.K. study concluded that older adults who walk their dogs end up walking 22 minutes longer and taking 2,760 more steps per day than those who do not walk a dog. The Journal of Physical Activity and Health puts the time walked even higher, concluding that dog owners walk approximately one hour per day more than those who do not have a dog. Studies have found that the amount of time an older adult spends walking a dog has an impact on the person’s health. For example, a U.S. study concluded that older adults who walk their dogs experience fewer limitations in daily activities, fewer doctor visits, and have a lower body mass index compared to those who don’t.

2. Pets Can Help Reduce Pain and Emotional Distress

A 2012 study concludes that therapy dogs – and by extension, pets – provide “significant improvements…for pain, mood, and other measures of distress among patients after a therapy dog visit.” In particular, the study determined that interaction with therapy dogs provided “clinically meaningful pain relief” in 23% of the participants in the study.

3. Pets Can Provide an Increase in Serotonin, Dopamine, and Oxytocin

Not only do pets help decrease pain, but they can help increase happiness. Specifically, studies have found that playing with your pet can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which help calm and relax you. Similarly, the Journal of Science concludes that if you look into your dog’s eyes for five minutes, you will get a boost of the feel-good hormone oxytocin (similar to the boost of oxytocin released when you look into the eyes of a loved one). 

4. Pets Can Reduce Heart Rate, Blood Pressure, and Anxiety

A recent analysis has determined that pet owners have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels (which are indicators of heart disease) than those who do not have pets. Indeed, studies have shown that having a dog can reduce heart rate, blood pressure, and anxiety. Perhaps more importantly, having a dog not only reduces your risk of heart attack, but increases your chances of long-term survival if you have one. 

5. Pets Can Help Relieve Loneliness and Depression

Finally, studies have determined that pets can help older adults relieve loneliness and depression. Dogs, in particular, are known to offer companionship and unconditional love that help older adults feel needed.

About Greg Bishop, Attorney of Park City

Greg Bishop has devoted much of his life to helping companies and teams grow and expand. As he approaches retirement, his focus is shifting towards empowering people to make the most of their retirement years. He is dedicated to helping people transition from a career-directed existence to a self-determined life.

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