Written By: Nicole Scheiman, OTR/L, DrOT
When asked to write a blog about women’s health, I stopped and considered what I believe is improving my current state of health. I thought first about my physical health. I often prioritize work over physical exercise (even though I know better). However, early December 2022, I brought home Noodle. Noodle is a hybrid breed of half Old English Sheep Dog and half standard poodle. Noodle on the other hand has her physical priorities in order! She loves to stretch, walk, run, play games, and drink a lot of water. One of her favorite strength-training activities is trying to pull me all throughout the neighborhood! A lot can be learned from Noodle. I learned that when Noodle wakes up she stretches a lot! So, I decided I would join her in a little doga (dog yoga). So there we are on the floor rolling around and playing every morning. Oh and did I mention that I no longer press snooze for 30 minutes or more, so I have time to stretch now? Nope, Noodle won’t have any part of that. When I try to snooze this is what I see:
Yes, that is Noodle mid-flight ready to pounce on me if I don’t get up! As I work at the computer, she requires me to get up from the computer, often, to take her out. She rings bells to let me know she needs to go out… yes, apparently I have become Pavlov’s dog. I noticed that after getting Noodle I was hitting my Apple watch goal of five minutes or more of standing activity every hour for 12 hours a day. Then I decided she has so much energy we would get a pass to the Bark and Rec Dog Park. While she plays, I walk the perimeter.
So then I started thinking about my mental health and if Noodle has had a positive impact there as well. That is a resounding yes! I unexpectedly lost my certified therapy dog, Hope, shortly after getting Noodle. I still grieve her loss daily, but Noodle ensures I keep busy. I’m an introvert and sometimes have to nearly force myself to be social. Noodle helps because when I take her out for walks, park trips, to work, and for pup cups, people always ask me about her. I much prefer talking about Noodle then myself so I often end up meeting new dog-lover friends! Then I later think, I should socialize more, that was fun! Sometimes we are our worst enemies, aren’t we?
Lauren, Jillian, Anna, and Elizabeth, all students from Huntington University’s Occupational Therapy Assistant Program, enjoy “Noodle” the program’s Therapy Dog in Training.
Jillian says that Noodle improves her health because Noodle puts her in a good mood for early morning classes, which makes the rest of her day better. She also says that Noodle “forces” her to play and take walks which gives her fun exercise!
Anna says that Noodle improves her health while at college by providing another interactive outlet. “There is something unique about human to animal interaction that you can’t experience in traditional relationships.” She says that Noodle is a stress-reducer, as being a full-time student can be challenging.
Elizabeth agrees that Noodle improves her health because of Noodle’s unconditional love and it decreases her stress levels.
I then decided to talk with some of my fellow dog lovers. I asked them to answer this question:
“What aspect of your personal health do you strongly believe your dog has improved for you?”
- Deb replied, “After my husband died, my pup saved my mental health!”
- Brenda replied, “I was never able to have children, so my fur baby filled a giant void in my life.”
- Natisha answered, “My dog belonged to my son first, for the first year of her life. Once I got her, it’s been like having a piece of my son with me every day since he now lives so far away.”
So, I was definitely building my case anecdotally. But, what does the evidence say? I scoured through the research looking for known health benefits for women who own dogs. I will summarize it for you:
- Owning a dog was associated with a higher likelihood of walking equal to or greater than 150 min/wk and a lower likelihood of being sedentary greater than or equal to 8 hours per day as compared to not owning a dog.
- Dog ownership is associated with increased physical activity in older women, particularly among women living alone. Was this study specifically for me?
- Heart attack survivors living alone who owned dogs had a 33% lower risk of death compared to survivors who did not own a dog.
- Dogs are less likely than humans or cats to keep you from getting quality sleep, meaning, women sleep best with dogs versus another human or a cat.
- Dogs are reportedly able to reduce social isolation and depression.
- Pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, may have some causal role in reducing cardiovascular disease risk.
- Pooling the data of 3, 837, 005 participants, dog ownership was associated with a 24% risk reduction for all-cause mortality as compared to non-ownership.
- In analyses of studies evaluating cardiovascular mortality, dog ownership conferred a 31% risk reduction for cardiovascular death.
Well, that is about all I need as far as evidence! Perhaps I should give Noodle a brother…stay tuned.
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Cassata, C. (2019, January 4). Women sleep better next to dogs. Healthline. Retrieved March 3, 2023, from https://www.healthline.com/health-news/why-women-sleep-better-with-dogs
Garcia, D. O., Wertheim, B. C., Manson, J. E., Chlebowski, R. T., Volpe, S. L., Howard, B. V., Stefanick, M. L., & Thomson, C. A. (2015). Relationships between dog ownership and physical activity in postmenopausal women. Preventive medicine, 70, 33–38. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ypmed.2014.10.030
Kramer, C. K., Mehmood, S., & Suen, R. S. (2019). Dog Ownership and Survival: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Circulation. Cardiovascular quality and outcomes, 12(10), e005554. https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCOUTCOMES.119.005554
LaMotte, S. (2020, February 21). The benefits of owning a pet — and the surprising science behind it. CNN. Retrieved March 3, 2023, from https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/20/health/benefits-of-having-a-pet-wellness/index.html
Levine, G. N. (n.d.). Pet ownership and cardiovascular risk | circulation. Pet Ownership and Cardiovascular Risk. Retrieved March 3, 2023, from https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/CIR.0b013e31829201e1
Mubanga, M., Byberg, L., Egenvall, A., Ingelsson, E., & Fall, T. (n.d.). Dog ownership and survival after a major cardiovascular event … Dog Ownership and Survival After a Major Cardiovascular Event. Retrieved March 3, 2023, from https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1161/CIRCOUTCOMES.118.005342