BY HELEN PALMER
One of my many emails this week was sent by www.healthypets.mercola.com and was titled “Dog Ownership Benefits for Seniors” by Dr. Karen Becker. I enjoyed reading it because it reviewed a recent study in Britain that used modern technology to document the differences in healthy activities of elderly people who live with dogs as versus those that live without pets.
The dogs in the study had an average age of eight years. Of course that made me think of my first standard schnauzer when she was eight and I was in my 40s. To keep her exercised I had to ride my bicycle and we covered four miles each time out. My veterinarian told me the dog was in better condition at the age of eight than many of his younger canine patients.
In the study the 43 dog owners were 65 to 81 years old and their main exercise was walking. There were 43 volunteers who did not have pets that were the control group. Both groups used monitors that recorded the amount of walking and sitting over a specific time period. The results were that those with dogs (they must have been medium to large breeds or else very active like a Russell terrier if small) clocked 147 minutes each week of brisk walking. This is only three minutes shy of the Centers for Disease Control’s recommended 150 minutes. Also those with dogs spent less time sitting than those in the control group.
Dr. Daniel Simon Mills of the University of Lincoln in England was the study author. He and co-author, Nancy Gee of the WALTHAM Center for Pet Nutrition noted several other benefits that seniors with pets derived from living with a family dog. The main benefit is the consistent exercise each day which helps create a better quality of life. There are several current studies that show the relationship of moderate exercise and improved or maintained cognition (brain power). This exercise benefit often leads to socialization with other humans who are out for a walk too.
Another benefit of dog ownership is the companionship provided. It “alleviates loneliness” according to Mills. “Dogs become a focal point for our attention and require us to provide a certain amount of structure to each day,” according to Becker.
Touching is an important sense. Human newborns fail to thrive if they are not touched. Older citizens need to touch and be touched too, which the family dog usually provides. Since dogs need to be cared for, they can provide emotional and physical relaxation. Playing games with the pet also gives entertainment and happiness.
Dogs live in the present. The study noted that the dog owners would talk to their dogs or talk about them when socializing on a walk. The control group tended to talk about past events or worry about the future.
Mills’ final comment: “Don’ be put off from getting a dog by the fact you’re elderly. It’s good for the dog and good for you.”