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Why dogs help us lead happier, healthier and longer lives : Some obvious and some not so obvious benefits. Part 1

rowan and puppy be happyWow, what a week at Puppy towers. There’s been mainly many highs and only a couple of fleeting lows. Not so sure where encouraging Kismet to urinate on the front garden tree at 3:15am in the morning falls. By first demonstrating myself. It’s important to lead by example. Then been spotted by the neighbours….mm well, ahem.  As with many things in life, I guess it boils down to perspective. And from mine, it was quite hilariously nuts. Maybe theirs as well? And maybe I will change my tune when the Guardia Civil knocks on the door…I’d forgotten it was Feria and they were all up. Memo to self must start living Andalusian hours. If only patients would understand that kind of timetable.

So, this week I thought we were all due to a bit of a break from the “Functional Medical How To”. Whilst it’s great to be able to help your dog attain optimal health, and I am happy all of you are utterly committed to that, it’s also great to celebrate the “already won”. I believe that by celebrating the positive it provides enough feel-good momentum to enjoy the moment itself …..and then deal with the rest. Manana. And by owning and loving a dog the following is all about that. So let’s consider this a celebration of dog ownership, have a cup of tea, or something more indulgent and feel good about the world. Please.

The most glaringly obvious health benefit to dog ownership is activity. If there’s one thing that your man in the pub will tell you, maybe the one selling you the dog, is that a hound will keep you fit. Some dogs more than others c/f Fenton in last week’s article.  That’s kind of true, certainly walking is a low impact activity and if you are running about from time to time, playing fetch, then that becomes even more beneficial. Elevated heart rate improves cardiac health and regular low impact activity helps strengthen and repair our joints which are also largely dependent on movement to pump blood into and out of them.

Within that period of activity, something else marvellous happens which is just as beneficial as the “fitness” wins and joint repair, namely “Lymphatic drainage”. The lymph is our waste disposal system. And its dependant on our movement for it to work effectively. So the next time you walk your dog smile and remember that you are also helping your body pump out all of those toxins that you may have enjoyed accumulating.

However, I believe the manifold benefits of hound cohabitation are even a little more complex and varied than we originally first thought, with some of the additional benefits being “more glaring” than others

Typically, we walk our beloved animals in the morning and the evening. So we can work during the day. Typically. Depending on where you are in the world and what time of the year it is, this period often spans sunrise and sunset. Recently there’s been lots of exciting research and chatter on light therapy and wavelengths, and it’s potential for a potently positive impact on our health.

At the beginning the day there’s a large percentage of blue wavelengths present in our daylight. These aren’t that obvious to our naked eye but our brains, especially our pineal gland bathe in this. Blue light is essential for regulating our body clocks. Our circadian rhythm. It primes our body to release melatonin approximately 12 hours later so that we can blissfully sleep. And sleep as you appreciate is a cornerstone to our health. It resets stress levels, allows us to run processes our bodies cannot complete whilst we are awake, it’s also when it puts on a dedicated spin cycle to detoxify the liver and allows us to filter our subconscious thoughts with dreams, essential for our sanity.  Melatonin has been proven to be one of the hormones which is also excellent at protecting us from cancer, so having plenty of natural levels of this is doubly beneficial, improved sleep AND cancer protection. Every time we walk our dogs in the early morning sun and look into its rays (without sunglasses) we help boost these melatonin levels.

Similarly, in the evening the light has a large percentage of red light spectrum wavelengths. These have been proven to be very healing and detoxifying. (Infra & near red saunas being increasingly used for this)

In short, how fabulous is that? You enjoy the company of man and woman’s best friend, stay active, improve lymphatic drainage, strengthen your joints, reset your daily body clock, enjoy the varied daylight benefits that improve your hormone profile and potentially decrease cancer risk.

So you may question, what if I live somewhere that I am not seeing daylight, or have to work night shifts? Or walk my dog during the lunchtime? Well, that’s correct, you may be getting these wavelengths at some point of the year by being outdoors and at the very least you will be enjoying the other benefits we have discussed so far & some of those we are about to discuss now…..and importantly be happy and reassured that any daylight is beneficial. Especially on the eye. It is essential for us to produce vitamin D which is the base of every single hormone in our body. Every single one. Whilst there are a couple of other components, these are basically made from vitamin D, from sunlight and cholesterol. (So wait…is cholesterol therefore good for us??, that’s a WHOLE other article, complete with rants AND laughter)

As a side note on light and wavelength, understanding and respecting this wavelength variation across the day is important in safeguarding our own sleep. Why? because smartphones, PC’s laptops and televisions all emit a large percentage of blue light. When we look at or these in the evening we are stimulating our brain to believe it is the beginning of the day rather than the end of it and I have seen consistently that patients who limit their television viewing & blue light exposure in the evening suddenly start sleeping MUCH better. If you must use devices, (Who in the right mind would want to miss Game of Thrones or Westworld??) then try the free “f.lux” app for your laptop, the “Nightshift” setting on your iPhone or even invest in a pair of James Swanwick’s blue light blocking lenses.  https://www.swanwicksleep.com

(The only stylish pair I have found to date!)

We have talked in the last couple of weeks about gut microbiome, how it plays an essential role in our immune defence system and protects our gut lining. Well having pets in the house, especially dogs, exposes you to a whole variety of bacteria that you would otherwise rarely encounter. This is generally good news. In fact, whenever I test someone’s gut microbiome at my practice, we can pretty much see if they have pets in their life or not as they tend to be MUCH more varied and plentiful.

Not something you might hear that often is talk about the “Parasympathetic Nervous Response”. Basically, this is the “rest and repair” state that is opposite to the “fight or flight” response. Our nervous systems have a binary switch between the two. This switch is like a dimmer so the height of the state can vary but basically, it’s on or off. A or B. Given we now know that stress is the root cause of all disease. And by stress, we include it in all of its formats we have previously discussed. Then whatever we can do to reduce this load, or “tip the see-saw” in our favour benefits us.

When you are stroking your dog or laughing at its antics, or simply feeling grateful to have such a beast in your life, you are flicking that stress switch into the parasympathetic. This “smooths” your heart rate variability which a HUGE indicator of longevity. I am deliberately not going into any more detail to the science around this, but, can I kindly share that by stroking your pet, smiling and appreciating their company you are radically improving your likelihood for longevity as well as your pets.

About me

“Rowan is the founding partner of The Modern Sensei, a Functional Health and Medicine Clinic that focuses on getting to the root cause of illness. Because its time to start leading better lives. After a long journey back to health himself, Rowan studied in Nutrition, Functional Diagnostic Nutrition and Functional medicine so that he can help others in their journey”

The Modern Sensei

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