If your nest is empty – by circumstance or by choice– think about getting a dog. Known for their devotion and happy dances, dogs can take a big bite out of isolation. Just hanging out with a furry friend, studies show, has a revitalizing effect. Here are some benefits of later-life dog ownership.
1. Dogs keep you fit: A study in The Journal of Physical Activity and Health found that dog owners walk approximately one hour longer per day than those without a fetching friend in their lives.
2. They make you healthier: Studies show that dog-owning seniors have lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol than their petless peers. Having a dog also reduces the risk of heart attack – and boosts your chances of long-term survival if you have one.
3. Dogs are social mediums: A natural-born icebreaker, your dog will introduce you to everyone from next-door neighbors to perfect strangers.
4. They organize your day: A dog may keep you sane, showered and solvent. Studies show that dog owners exhibit higher degrees of self-discipline than those without. Dogs, like humans, thrive on structure; they need to be fed, walked and nurtured at regular intervals.
5. Dogs get you: MRI scanners showed that the canine brain reacts to voices and sounds, such as crying or laughter, in the same way the human brain does. Dogs are also the only nonhuman animals who scan the left side of a face – the process whereby people, too, “read” emotions.
6. They boost quality of life: For many older Americans, a dog means the difference between a life lived and a life merely endured. Dogs help you stay safe and independent: They provide ears for the deaf, eyes for the blind and an early warning system at the approach of dangers (both real and imagined, of course!).
7. Dogs make you a better person: Consider this: Ozzy Osbourne, the bat-chomping rocker not known as an SPCA poster child, once wrestled a coyote to the ground to pull his pet Pomeranian, Pipi, from its jaws. As the “bumper snicker” exhorts us, “Be the person your dog thinks you are.”