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Golden Years: Nine Ways a Dog Boosts Your Health

By James Jacobson and Kristine Chandler Madera

What if there was a simple way to reduce stress, prolong and improve the quality of your life, banish the blues, and best of all, decrease the number of doctor visits?

There is! Get a dog. Here are nine ways that having a dog can boost your health.

Improved heart health. Dog owners have lower blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides than non pet-owners. All these reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Recuperate from illness faster. Seniors in hospitals respond better to treatment and recover more quickly when they have contact with a dog or therapy animal.

Increased chance of surviving heart disease. A clinical research project of heart-disease patients showed that having a dog was the strongest social predictor of survival, even compared to having family and friends.

Longer life expectancy after a heart attack. The presence of a dog improved survival rate even more than having a spouse or close friend. One study showed that men who had a dog were six times more likely to be alive one year after a heart attack than men without a dog.

Reduced stress. Just sitting and petting a dog reduces your heart rate, and therefore stress level.

Regular exercise. It goes without saying that dogs need to be walked, but did you know that even seniors who don’t walk their dogs are more active than seniors without dogs?

They don’t call dogs man’s best friend for nothing. Ninety-five percent of senior dog owners talk to their dog. Over three quarters report that their dogs help when they feel sad. Almost that many say that their dogs help when they feel physically bad. In general, seniors with dogs are better able to tolerate social isolation that seniors without dogs.

Fewer doctor visits. A study of a thousand Medicare patients showed that seniors with dogs had nearly ten percent fewer doctor visits compared to seniors without dogs. Other studies put his figure over twenty percent, a strong reflection of the health benefits of having a dog.

Improved well-being. Alzheimer’s patients have fewer anxiety attacks and fewer mood disorders when allowed to have a dog nearby. Dog owners report fewer headaches, fewer bouts of indigestion and less difficulty sleeping. Studies show that elderly people caring for a dog improve their overall health compared to their peers living without animals in the home.

Need one more reason? Be a lifesaver. Adopting a dog from a shelter saves a dog’s life, too. Senior dogs are too often passed over at shelters for younger dogs or puppies with a longer life expectancy and more energy. But senior dogs have a lot to offer. They are often already housebroken and trained, they are not as active as younger dogs, and they are generally more interested in companionship than a run in the park.

Many shelters have adoption programs to match senior pets with senior people. They will help you choose a suitable dog and often provide ongoing support—sometimes at reduced or no cost.

Having a dog may not be the answer for everyone, but if you’re interested, call your local shelter to find out more. There may be a Rover, a Spot, or a Freckles ready to give you a whole new leash on life!

James Jacobson and Kristine Chandler Madera are authors of How to Meditate with Your Dog: An Introduction to Meditation for Dog Lovers, which presents a non-dogmatic approach to meditation. To fetch a free chapter from the book (chapter 3 “The Three Un-Dogmas”) and the introduction from the audiobook go to