Pet love can profoundly balance emotions and even prevent disease. A study on 5,000 people aged 20-60 years carried out in 1992 by the Baker Medical Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia, showed that male pet owners had significantly reduced cholesterol and blood triglyceride (high levels of which are associated with heart disease). In addition, the blood pressure of both sexes was significantly lower than in non-pet owners. This finding was independent of type of pet, the owner's diet or weight, or whether the owner smoked or not.
The positive emotions gained from simply stroking a pet can lead to dramatic reduction of major cardiac risk factors and calm both body and mind. When you watch your pet or play with it, you create a communication link that can trigger feelings of love and joy in you. At the same time, your physiology undergoes profound changes. So pets can be good for us not just emotionally, but physically as well.
Pets can benefit from us, too, provided we show them our affection. A classic study conducted 20 years ago on the effects of diet on rabbits demonstrated the therapeutic power of emotions on the health of animals. A large number of rabbits were fed with a toxic diet containing high amounts of fat. Consequently, all the rabbits developed arteriosclerosis - a condition when arteries become hardened and dysfunctional, leading to heart disease. However, there was one group of rabbits, in which only 30% developed the disease. This came as a total surprise to the researchers because there were no physical factors involved that distinguished the two groups.
Soon they discovered that the student who was in charge of feeding this particular group of rabbits did not just throw the food at them but took them out of their cages, talked and whispered to them, sang to them, stroked and cuddled them. The rabbits felt loved and cared for, and although their food was toxic, they were able to metabolize it through different pathways than the other rabbits. Their immune systems thrived and were strong enough to handle even poisonous food. Although the food was the same for all the rabbits, this particular group had one very good reason to survive and live happily. It was the student's love for them.
What applies to animals in this respect also applies to human beings. A dog that licks your hand with affection or waits patiently for you to come home can flood your body with pleasure hormones and anticancer drugs. Animals can make you happy because they exhibit an innocent and natural behavior and they may remind you that perfect health is a distinct possibility. Being near them and watching them helps us to reconnect to the natural world and generates balance in our emotional life.
Andreas Moritz is a writer and practitioner in the field of Integrative Medicine. He is the author of 13 books on various subjects pertaining to holistic health.
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