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Mr. Norris, I appreciated the Harvard study information a few weeks back regarding how marriage can actually improve one’s health. Personally speaking, however, with no marital prospects on the horizon, I feel that the positive impact of pets upon human health is often underrated. What does research show about our furry friends? Is man’s best friend also man’s best health advocate? – “Gone to the Dogs” in Georgia

You’re in luck because Health magazine just reported on this very topic.

I realize there are a wide range of pets people enjoy today, but I’m going to have to limit them to dogs and cats here. Nevertheless, many of the below points could apply to your buddy of choice.

Research has shown that our four-legged domestic friends really can make us healthier and happier. Let me highlight 10 ways Health documented that pets can improve your well-being. Some are surprising, if not shocking.

  1. Unconditional love and acceptance. There’s nothing like coming home from a hard day’s work to a wagging welcome. Gary A. Christenson, M.D., chief medical officer at Boynton Health Service at the University of Minnesota, explained: “Pets often provide unconditional acceptance and love, and they’re always there for you. There is a bond and companionship that makes a big difference in mental health.” That is why pets can also boost one’s self-esteem. Pets even seem to have an intuitive sense that serves as a health monitor of sorts for their masters.
  2. Depression relief. According to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, as well as a British Psychological Society review of multiple studies, a canine friend can promote psychological well-being. Christenson explained: “The calming presence and the social bond that pets bring can be very powerful. Animals give something to focus on instead of the negative thoughts a depressed person is prone to have.”
  3. Physical fitness. Rebecca A. Johnson, Ph.D., director of the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine and co-author of “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound,” led a study that discovered that those who walk their dogs are more physically fit than those who walk with other people.
  4. Lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Johnson also noted that outside of the other benefits from aerobics, daily walking your dog can help keep your cholesterol in check, too. A survey by the National Heart Foundation of Australia additionally found that male pet owners have lower triglyceride levels.
  5. Stress relief. Johnson further noted that similar chemical reactions to human relational love can occur also with our pets: “A powerful neurochemical, oxytocin, is released when we look at our companion animal, which brings feelings of joy. It’s also accompanied by a decrease in cortisol, a stress hormone.”
  6. Improved human relationships. Not to diminish the value of human love affairs, a study in the journal Applied Developmental Science found that people who have meaningful relationships with their pets feel even more bonded in their domestic and community relationships, as well. They are more empathetic, confident and leadership-ready.
  7. Diminished chronic pain. Researchers at Loyola University Chicago discovered that less pain medication is used among patients who have received pet therapy after undergoing joint replacement surgery. And a study in the American Journal of Critical Care reported that patients suffering from heart failure improve their cardio operation when visited by a dog.
  8. Lower blood pressure. Pet owners who take medication for hypertension also experience a roughly 50 percent reduction in blood pressure response to stress if they own a pet, according to researchers at the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York.
  9. Lower cardiovascular disease risk. In 2013, the American Heart Association examined the relationship between pet ownership and cardiovascular disease risk and concluded that having a pet – particularly a dog – can in fact reduce such risk and survival rates.
  10. Lessened allergies in children. This was one of the surprises to me. According to Johnson and a study in the journal Clinical & Experimental Allergy, babies who are exposed to pets in the first six months of life are less likely to develop asthma, upper respiratory infections, including allergies and eczema. They have all-around stronger immune systems.

Having noted all the above health benefits of pets, let me also remind my reading audience that pets are a significant caring and fiscal responsibility, as any pet owner can tell you about the daily care and costs of a furry friend. Someone seeking a pet as a solution to loneliness or some physical ailment needs to weigh the obligations with the additional stress he or she can also bring into a possibly already-overburdened life.

A last precaution for prospective pet owners: You must seriously consider geographical location and environmental effects on both the pet and the people in your home. For example, deer ticks, which transmit Lyme disease, are often heavy in certain regions of the country and can be easily transported on pets that spend time outside.

But ending on a positive note, when considering the 10-plus health benefits of our furry friends, I knew there was a reason we have four dogs on our ranch, not to mention myriad other animals.

Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.

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