Monday 2 March 2015

Animals and wellbeing – part two

Us pet owners are a lucky bunch – as we've already discovered, our pets have a tremendous impact on our general wellbeing. From getting us out of the house for a spot of exercise, to making us feel better when we’re down, our pets definitely have the ability to enrich our lives.

Over the next few months we’re going to take a look at the various benefits our interactions with the animal world have on our general wellbeing. This month, the focus is on animals and our physical health.

Animals and physical wellbeing

Let’s face it – if given the option to either go out for a brisk, healthy walk, or stay in and snuggle up on the sofa, many of us would choose the sofa. Thank goodness, then, for our dogs! Their get-up-and-go ensures couch-potatoes everywhere are up, out and active at least twice a day. 
Walking the dog has obvious health benefits. Even a short walk means you’re burning calories, keeping your heart healthy and your muscles active.

But why stop there? Our dogs' boundless joy at being out and about with you makes them the perfect personal trainers if you’re looking to start a new fitness regime! As this article from The Bark explains, exercising with your dog offers companionship and motivation that can help us stick to our plan with more success than if we were attempting it alone. For a start, your dog won’t accept "It’s raining so I won’t go jogging today," as an excuse!

Walking our dogs has obvious health benefits, but there’s good news for cat owners, too! Anyone whose had a purring cat curl up in their lap will know it’s a calming and comforting sound, but did you know it’s also good for you? The frequency of a cat’s purr can actually help lower blood pressure and alleviate stress, which in turn reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke! In fact, cat owners are 40% less likely to suffer a heart attack than those who don't own one.

Our pets are also great for our children’s health. Kids who grow up with pets in the home are less likely to develop allergies, and will have a stronger immune system than those who don’t. Children who grow up with cats are also less likely to develop asthma as they grow older (providing their parents don’t already suffer with it, or have a cat allergy). 

Our pets can help reduce health risks and keep us healthy, but they can also keep us safe. Assistance dogs change people’s lives for the better, allowing freedom, independence and mobility.
Seizure dogs can be trained to alert others to someone having a seizure, or lay with the sufferer to keep them safe while a seizure occurs. There is ongoing research into the incredible ability of some dogs who can ‘predict’ when a person is going to have a seizure and alert them, giving them time to get somewhere safe.

Animals have the incredible ability to lift our spirits, and this in itself is a key benefit to our physical wellbeing. As explored in the book, Partners – Everyday working dogs being heroes every day, a hospital visit from a therapy dog, like Hoop, the Golden Retriever, can make a big difference to those in pain, or undergoing rehabilitation after an accident:

“In a rehab situation Hoop truly became a very unique therapeutic tool. Standing up more because they weren’t afraid of losing their balance, Hoop helped patients work longer and harder. Making their therapy fun while at the same time challenging them to do just a little more brightened their day without causing the usual anxiety or fear.” (p134)

We know that the animals in our lives can have amazing benefits on our mental health, and it turns out this is also true for our physical wellbeing. From getting us out of the house on a normal day to helping us re-learn to walk after an accident, animals remind us that we’re not alone. They’ll be there to encourage us and keep us safe. In short, they’ve got our back, rain or shine. All that’s left for us to do is make sure we do the same for them in return …