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Guest Blog: Can Dogs Protect Seniors Against Heart Disease?

For thousands of years, dogs have been considered “man’s best friend.” Current research now suggests that not only do our furry friends make us smile as we come through the door, but they may be a friend for our health too. By contributing to lower cholesterol levels, increase in daily physical activity, and reduced risk of depression and anxiety, owning a dog may help protect against heart disease.

 

Seniors and Cardiovascular Health

According to the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, in 2010, 37.2 percent of the 41.4 million elderly persons (age 65 and older) in the U.S reported that they had been diagnosed with heart disease. With obesity rates on the rise among older adults, and with the senior citizen population projected to double in the next two decades as the baby boomer generation enters their golden years, one can only imagine how many millions of elderly Americans will be negatively affected by heart disease.

 

How do dogs help our hearts? 

Consider this: simply walking 30 minutes a day can help raise your heart rate, reduce fat, and reduce the risk of diabetes, and dog owners are 34 percent more likely to fit in 150 minutes of walking per week than non-dog owners. And that’s just walking! This doesn’t even take into account dog owners who run and hike with their pet. On top of that, every dog owner spends time playing with their fluffy friend, or exerting energy picking up their unpleasant business, or carrying their bag of food from the store to the car. All of this takes energy! The greater point is that dogs help keep us active and moving throughout the day and force us to exert energy in times that we otherwise wouldn’t. Here is a list of benefits that scientists have correlated between dogs and our hearts:

 

  • Lower blood pressure & cholesterol levels
  • Lower incidence of obesity
  • Increased physical activity
  • Increased survival rate among patients who suffer heart attacks
  • Less susceptible to the detrimental physical effects of stress
  • Decreased risk of depression and anxiety resulting from companionship, unconditional love, and a sense of responsibility

 

What Seniors Should Know Before Owning a Dog

Regardless of whether you are an active senior who enjoys playing sports and already maintains a healthy lifestyle, or one who suffers from health complications and leads a more sedentary lifestyle, the benefits of owning a dog are tremendous. It’s important to remember, however, that dog ownership takes time, energy, and patience. That’s why when deciding on breed, age (puppy or adult), and whether to adopt from a rescue or buy from a breeder, we strongly recommend evaluating your current physical and mental health, along with your vision of being a “dog owner.” For example, owning a Great Dane puppy means different responsibilities than owning a 7-year-old Golden Retriever. Here is a helpful article on the best dog breeds for seniors.

 

It is equally important to evaluate the risk associated with seniors owning dogs. Roughly 86,000 Americans fall each year from owning a pet, and drivers 70 years or older are twice as likely to be in an accident if a pet is in the car. So if you live alone and have to walk up and down stairs every day, or perhaps have become a little shakier behind the wheel as you’ve aged, then owning a dog might present more risk than reward. Additionally, from buying food and toys to regular checkups, baths, and groomings, the average cost of owning a dog ranges between $1,500 and $3,000 per year. Without extra income hitting the bank, most retirees live on an annual fixed income. Can you afford this?  The expenses of owning a dog should be highly considered before purchasing. Here is a helpful article on the pros and cons of owning a pet, which also includes several key questions you should ask yourself in evaluating your decision.

 

Conclusion

Whether we chose to believe it or not, America is a society of increased obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.  When it comes to taking care of our heart, owning a dog is not a magical cure. Seniors still need to exercise, eat healthy, avoid smoking and drinking, and check in with their doctor regularly. However, if you have the capacity, owning a dog can lead to the recommended weekly exercise amount, create a superior cholesterol profile, maintain lower blood pressure rates, and decrease the risk of depression and anxiety. Dr. Lee from the Harvard Heart Letter perhaps surmises it best. “I am not going to be prescribing dogs for patients with heart disease, but I certainly won’t discourage them—even if they consider themselves fairly limited by their medical problems.”

 

 

This article was written by Alex Milzer and Nick Schaller with SeniorDirectory.com.

 

 

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