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5 ways having a pet makes you healthier

From reducing stress to helping detect cancer, find out more about the ways your furry friend helps improve your health

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family dog outside

Reduce your risk for depression

Seniors who own pets are less likely to be depressed than those who don’t, according to a study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Cindy Adams, a professor and specialist in the human-animal bond at the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph, believes positive effects stem from the fact that pets force us to focus on something other than ourselves. “It takes our minds off our own aches and pains,” she says.

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dog and baby

Protect child respiratory function

Want to keep your baby healthy?

According to a study published in the journal Pediatrics, all you need to do is get a furry family member.

They may bark, drool and demand constant attention, but they also “have a protective effect on respiratory tract infections during the first year of life, leading to better resistance to infectious respiratory illnesses during childhood,” the study’s authors wrote.

And that’s not all.

The babies who had contact with dogs also had less frequent ear inflammation or infection and needed fewer courses of antibiotics than babies who didn’t have contact with dogs.

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woman running with dog fitness

Improve your fitness level

A study published in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health found that dog owners are 34 percent likelier to be more active than those who don’t have a dog.

Here’s more proof your “best friend” can make you healthier:

• A study from the University of Western Australia found that people with dogs walked about 30 minutes more a week than non-dog owners.

• Teens with dogs get about 32 minutes of physical activity a day, reports the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.

 

• A one-year study from the University of Guelph found that having a pet around had a positive effect on the physical health of those age 65 and older.

• When people who didn’t own dogs signed up for a dog-walking program, they lost 14 pounds in about a year, says a University of Missouri-Columbia study.

• In addition to walks to the park, it seems people are more likely to participate in outdoor recreational physical activities if they have a dog, shows a study from BMC Public Health.

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women with dog happy

Reduce stress and tension

Pet owners have been shown to have lower blood pressure and fewer stress hormones in their blood. In fact, the presence of a pet was found to be more effective than a spouse or a friend in easing the effects of stress on the heart.

 

Pets foster self-esteem, calmness, soothing, and a feeling of acceptance. They provide daily, nonjudgmental companionship and a means for us to take the focus off our own needs and problems. Pet-owning seniors suffer fewer minor health problems, need to see the doctor less often, and enjoy lower health care costs. If a dog needs to get walked every day, guess who else tends to get walked?

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puppy cute dog

Detect cancer earlier

Dogs are already known to assist healing and improve overall health and well-being by interacting with lonely seniors and patients with mental illness, Alzheimer’s or post-traumatic stress disorder. And they can predict epileptic seizures and sense earthquakes. But the keen nose of Captain Jennings and his colleagues might well give us a new, non-invasive diagnostic tool for the early detection of ovarian cancer.

Michael McCulloch, an epidemiologist and medical researcher who is also trained in Chinese medicine trained five dogs-animals from the Guide Dogs for the Blind program and some regular neighbourhood dogs with only basic puppy behaviour training-using reward-based incentives to identify breath samples taken from men and women who had been diagnosed with breast and lung cancer (much like sniffing the shirt of a missing person and then locating the person). The dogs were then involved in a scientific study to see if they could pick out cancerous samples-not previously used in the initial training-from a group of healthy samples. Study participants exhaled several times into a tube containing synthetic “wool” that trapped the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in their breath. A cancerous sample was then placed randomly in a row with four healthy samples. The dogs would smell each sample and lie down beside the one they detected as cancerous, just like a drug-sniffing dog.

The results, published in Integrative Cancer Therapies in 2006, were astonishing. The dogs had an almost perfect success rate in identifying the breath samples from the cancer patients; they had a 99 percent accuracy rate for lung cancer and 95 percent for breast cancer.

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