LOVE: Personal Health Care Policy Boost
I'm audio "reading" LOVE AND SURVIVAL, a book by Dr. Dean Ornish - a medical doctor specializing in preventive medicine who has performed extensive research on the effect of love and affection on our health.
Basically, he says if you have all the precursors of certain conditions, the difference between an earlier demise and longer healthier survival is how much love and affection you have in your life.
Not just receiving love and affection, but giving it.
He says if you have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, etc., but you have affection in your life - chances of you excreting healing endorphins and therefore having a better chance at living longer and feeling good while you do it are greatly increased.
The scientific research he quotes involves primarily human relationships, particularly emphasizing the support of partners, friends, family and community.
I also believe the same is true of living with pets we love deeply and - without becoming completely anthropomorphic - who appear to love us. I believe my animals love, even adore, me. But that's an emotion I attribute to them based upon their behavior, I don't know that for a fact.
Medical studies show the interaction - verbal and petting - between humans and dogs has noticeable effects on the cardiovascular system (mostly lowering blood pressure). Interestingly, it is the tactile action that makes the greatest difference. While the verbal impact was noticed statistically, it is not nearly as great as the effect of petting - of touch. Perhaps this is because our skin is the largest organ in the body.
I think this can extrapolate to other affectionate animals as well - and even those who are not considered affectionate but who elicit the emotion of love and affection from us, toward whom we feel loving, caring and compassion. Imagining love coming from them still produces endorphins.
I've even seen this effect on those who cherish a stuffed toy, imagining it has a soul.
Of course there's the valuable side effect of walking a dog or other ambulatory pet - moderate exercise is always recommended for all creatures. There might even be some social benefit if you do it with other dog owners or people alone or with other pets who want to accompany you.
"Therapy animals" are actually medically approved - trained and certified - who are brought to visit children and adults who are ill, lonely, mentally challenged or confined.
With permission, my now deceased wee pup Oscar - himself challenged with many health issues during his life (the picture is of Oscar wrapped in a towel, recovering after suffering a grand mal seizure) - and I visited a friend's mom at her assisted living quarters; she was in the later stages of dementia so she was not responding to or recognizing people she had known previously.
She lit up when she saw my little guy and responded near gleefully as she spoke with him, of him, and petted him.
Another patient I sat next to in the waiting room slowly lifted a stiff arm to pet him awkwardly. I was told she had not moved her arm for a very long time. They didn't know she could.
The point of Dr. Ornish's book is that the more touch - affectionate touch, caressing, hugging, cuddling, embracing, massage - we enjoy in our lives, the more positively it affects not only our minds but our emotions and stimulating those loving emotions helps heal bodies. The mind-emotion-body connection.
He also notes spirituality, including prayer, can ignite loving feelings toward ourselves and others, but the vast majority of empirical touch/emotion healing evidence he presents relates to the power of tactile contact, what we can physically feel.
I know some believe it's strange to be so close to pets, that it's more important to give and receive from humans. But I believe it's also important to share a special physical and emotional bond with pets, and not just because they share the planet with us, but because they are salient beings capable of feeling. Although - LOL - an actor I coached once told me, "In my next life I want to come back as one of your pets."
We humans decided to purposely domesticate them. We removed them from their natural habitats, in which they learned to live and thrive naturally. We took them away from the communities of other animals who socialized and trained them to live in the wild.
Because of that, I believe we have a special responsibility to care for them - training, socializing, providing them with safe and clean environments as well as affection and care they no longer understand how to obtain for themselves on their own - away from packs, herds, clutters, troops, flocks, strings, rags or flanges that previously did all that for and with them.
Not to the exclusion of humans, but I believe as much as we need affection - so do they. Even fish, believe it or not. Here's a young deer massaging her cat pal:
And here's an even more touching video of animals treating one another affectionately.
Thanks to funnyanimals.com for the monkey hugging his pup photo.