By Mara M. Baun, D.N.Sc., F.A.A.N. and Nancy J. Dapper, M.P.A.
Animal lovers have always known it. Now health researchers are confirming it: animals are good for your health.
Just 10 minutes of physical interaction with a beloved pet can lower blood pressure and increase finger temperatureboth clear signs of relaxationaccording to a number of research studies.
Benefits to people with high blood pressure have been documented as well. A recent study showed that pets can do what medicine cannot. It involved two groups of stockbrokers who were already being treated with ACE-inhibitor therapy.
The study found significant differences in their physiological reactions to stress tests. Those with pets were about half as reactive to stressors. This study demonstrates the health effects of pets in conjunction with medication. That's significant because it's well known that this type of medication plays an important role in controlling resting blood pressure, but does not control blood pressure related to stress.
Another study of people with borderline hypertension shows equally encouraging results. Two groups were evaluated for their reactions to psychological stress tests and monitored for several days. The group with dogs in the home reduced resting blood pressure (to within normal range) and reactivity to stress, as well as ambulatory blood pressure, even while at work. The lowest blood pressure was recorded on the day participants took their dogs to work.
Shamu, the Dentist's Friend
A therapy dog can prove helpful to children undergoing potentially stressful medical and dental procedures. One study showed that a therapy dog named Casey lowered behavioral distress in two- to six-year-olds visiting a pediatric clinic. Casey simply sat on the floor of the exam room, and the children were free to pet and interact with her. Parents told the researchers that their children had "never behaved this well at the doctor's." One mother said: "I can't believe she isn't crying. She always cries, and we have to hold her down for the doctor to look in her ears." Having the children more relaxed during their examinations made diagnosis and treatment easier for the health professionals and parents alike.