Q: I’ve always owned cats, but I had a mild heart attack recently and my doctor wants me to walk more. Do you think a puppy can help me get healthier? – Jessica L., Baton Rouge, La.
A: Absolutely. Dogs improve and protect your health in so many ways, and exercise from walking your dog is right at the top of the list. One National Institute of Health-funded study of people with heart attacks found that a year later those who owned dogs were more likely to be alive than those who didn’t – even if they had the most severe cardio problems.
Having a loving pet also reduces stress. Harvard Medical School and Yale Law School – pressure cookers of stress, for sure – have specially trained “therapy dogs” that students can check out from the library for a dose of calming canine companionship. And therapy dogs also have been making the rounds at hospitals for a long time (Therapy Dogs International started in 1976). For kids going through chemo, a visit from a dog can provide a rush of energizing adrenaline and needed distraction. For heart patients, petting a pooch can bring down blood pressure.
Other surprising benefits of having a dog: Some have almost 50 times as many scent receptors as humans, so they can sniff out everything from bombs to diseases. In fact, they can be trained to detect changes in behavior that indicate high blood pressure or a heart attack, and head out for help. (“What’s that, Lassie? Timmy’s in the well?”)
If you have kids or grandkids at home, they benefit, too. Babies seem to develop healthier immune systems if they grow up in a house with a dog, and older kids learn about caring and responsibility. The right dog can be a real benefit for you and your family. Pooches can make everyone’s real age younger, and we’re all for that!
– Dr. Michael Roizen & Dr. Mehmet Oz
© 2012 Michael Roizen, M.D. and Mehmet Oz, M.D. Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.