The greatest challenge is stating the problem in a way that will allow a solution.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Can Pets Help You Live Longer?:

Pets are family, no doubt about it. They offer love, companionship, even a fitness opportunity, if you've got a dog that needs to get outdoors every day. But can they actually help extend your life?

The verdict on this one is a bit surprising, even to the researchers who discovered it. Health scientists Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin analyzed data gathered over an 80-year period on 1,500 people in California. Dubbed the Terman study after psychologist Lewis Terman who initiated the analysis in 1921, the results suggest that interacting with pets played no role in the participants' likelihood of surviving. The results were the same even when Friedman and Martin examined only people who were socially isolated, for whom a close relationship with a pet might be more important.

This is one of those cases where the myth-busting science doesn't jive with my own instincts, or perhaps, what I want to believe! That doesn't mean it's wrong, and our intuition about what will keep us healthy often conflicts with empirical data. But even having to care for a houseplant kept elderly nursing home residents happier - and alive longer - according to research done in the late 1970s by psychologists Ellen Langer and Judith Rodin. Wouldn't the same sense of responsibility and emotional interaction help extend the lives of pet owners?

What do you think? Do you believe your four-legged family member is helping, or hindering your longevity? What questions do you think researchers should be asking, to further examine the role that pets play in our health and happiness? Let me know what you think.

Girl and dog on beach