Paws For Ef­fect

Pets can have a sur­pris­ing ef­fect on your wellbeing.

Australian House & Garden - - Content -

‘An­i­mals give us a sense of be­ing needed and cared about, which makes them good for peo­ple who are vul­ner­a­ble.’ Dr Janette Young, Univer­sity of South Aus­tralia

Peo­ple who walk dogs ev­ery day will have a good grasp of the benefits that can come from reg­u­lar walk­ing but, ex­er­cise aside, is there some­thing else about dogs or other pets that’ s good for hu­man health?

“The strong­est ev­i­dence so far is for bet­ter men­tal health, and the ef­fect seems to come from the re­la­tion­ship we have with an­i­mals,” says Dr Janette Young of the Univer­sity of South Aus­tralia’s School of Health Sciences. “An­i­mals don’t judge us; they give us a sense of be­ing needed and cared about, which makes them good for peo­ple who are vul­ner­a­ble, in­clud­ing those with a men­tal ill­ness or chronic con­di­tion.”

Re­search has found that pet own­ers, es­pe­cially dog own­ers, have health­ier blood pres­sure and cope bet­ter with stress. While reg­u­lar walk­ing can partly ex­plain this, Dr Young be­lieves these benefits are more likely to come from the re­la­tion­ship it­self, and the fact that an­i­mals help hu­mans con­nect with each other. Stud­ies sug­gest there could be a link be­tween hav­ing so­cial con­nec­tions and a re­duced risk of heart disease.

“There’s a sense of touch and in­ti­macy with an­other liv­ing be­ing that can come from cud­dling an an­i­mal,” says Dr Young. “An­i­mals also help us cre­ate so­cial net­works. When you walk a dog, for in­stance, you meet other dog own­ers.”

Pets are also emerg­ing as help­ful for peo­ple re­cov­er­ing from a sui­cide at­tempt. “When I’ve been talk­ing to older peo­ple, some have said it was their pets that pre­vented them from sui­cide. Aus­tralia’s sui­cide rate is dou­ble the road toll. If it turns out that pet own­er­ship is help­ful, we could ex­plore that find­ing,” says Dr Young, who be­lieves the role pets play in our wellbeing is un­der­rated and de­serves more re­search.

She’s not the only one. As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor Em­manuel Sta­matakis of the Univer­sity of Syd­ney is now re­search­ing the ef­fects of dog own­er­ship on hu­man health.

“There’s a per­cep­tion that dog own­ers are phys­i­cally ac­tive, yet 40 per cent of Aus­tralian dog own­ers don’t walk their dogs, so if there’s a health ben­e­fit it’s not nec­es­sar­ily com­ing from walk­ing,” says Pro­fes­sor Sta­matakis. “If we can learn more about the health ef­fects of hav­ing a dog, it could sup­port pro­grams pro­mot­ing dog own­er­ship as a way of in­creas­ing phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity, im­prov­ing health and pre­vent­ing car­dio­vas­cu­lar disease and men­tal ill­ness.”

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