In an Australian-first demonstration sponsored by leading global pet food brand Pedigree, it has been shown that an owners' heart rate can change when in the company of their dog - actually lowering and becoming in sync with one another helping to reduce stress.
The Hearts Aligned initiative follows the real life stories of three Australian pet owners, all who have taken part in a demonstration that shows how dogs help reduce stress levels and improve our lives.
Participants Glenn and his Australian Shepherd Lyric know firsthand the positive impact pet ownership can have. After experiencing a work injury, Glen went through three years of intense stress, anxiety and depression. Glen credits Lyric's companionship as helping him breakthrough this time and Lyric continues to help him overcome mental health challenges every day.
Research shows pet owners have greater self-esteem, undertake more exercise, fare better on measures of wellbeing and are better able to cope with social rejection than non-pet owners. Pet ownership has also been shown to act as a buffer from stressful situations and events, particularly in old age.
This is important in light of recent research which shows that 90% of Australians need to stress less, with 74% of people feeling stressed because of work. If stress lasts a long time or overwhelms a person it can negatively impact their health, wellbeing, relationships, work and general enjoyment of life.
Mia Cobb, Canine Scientist and demonstration co-conductor, commented on the impact the special relationship can have on the health and wellbeing of a dog owner.
'There is decades of research showing how dogs can help their owners stay both physically and emotionally healthy. Hearts Aligned aims to showcase the science behind the special bond we have with our dogs and to celebrate that," said Ms Cobb.
Dr Craig Duncan, leading Sports Scientist, commented on the implication of the demonstration results saying, 'I look at stress and anxiety and how it affects human performance on a daily basis. I also know personally the incredible toll it can take on your health. My own heart attack was brought on by stress and it nearly killed me. The Hearts Aligned project aims to show how pet ownership can help us positively deal with the stressors of daily life."
Kate Waite, Pedigree spokesperson said the project reinforced the company's commitment to building a better world for pets.
'At Pedigree we truly believe that dogs bring out the best in us. We are thrilled to be able to showcase this sentiment through the Hearts Aligned campaign and to celebrate the many benefits they bring to our lives," said Mrs Waite.
Australians are encouraged to share their own dog photos using the official hashtag #HeartsAligned. Each post on Facebook will trigger a $1 donation from Pedigree to national rescue organisation Pet Rescue up to $20,000. The campaign will run until the end of May.
You can view the full campaign video on the Pedigree Youtube and website www.pedigree.com.au.
The project, was inspired by a demonstration conducted by American researcher Dr Rollin McCraty.
Question: Can you talk us through the research behind this project?
Mia Cobb: The demonstration recreates an experiment done by American Heart researcher Dr Rollin McCraty called the Energetic Heart. It showcases how when monitoring the heart rhythms of both dogs and their owners while apart and together, that an owners' heart rate can change when in the company of their dog - actually lowering and helping to reduce stress. There is also decades of research which showcases the many health benefits of dog/pet ownership for humans from childhood well into old age. We are highlighting how dogs can help our physical and mental health, as well as the benefits of pet ownership, through the film and project.
Question: What do you hope the #HeartsAligned project achieves?
Mia Cobb: We hope that the video brings a focus to how our pets actually make us healthier and happier every day. The Hearts Aligned initiative follows the real life stories of three Australian pet owners, all who have taken part in a demonstration to showcase how dogs help reduce stress levels and improve our lives. The campaign is also fundraising for the national rescue organisation Pet Rescue who support over 950 shelters across Australia. We hope the video inspires Australians to share their own dog photos using the official hashtag #HeartsAligned. Each post on Facebook will trigger a $1 donation from Pedigree to national rescue organisation Pet Rescue up to $20,000.
Question: How can dogs help our heart health?
Mia Cobb: Pet owners have been shown to exercise more, which of course is beneficial for our heart health. Pets have also been shown to improve cardiovascular health in other ways. For example, patting your dog can release feel-good hormones that act to reduce levels of stress hormones, resulting in lower blood pressure and heart rate. Additionally, research shows us that heart attack survivors and people with serious heart related abnormalities who own dogs live longer than people with the same problems who don't have pets.
Question: How do we become in sync with our dogs?
Mia Cobb: It's currently unclear what processes underlie the coherence of heart rate patterns we observed between dogs and their owners during the Hearts Aligned demonstration. It's a fascinating phenomenon and one I'd love to research further. It would be interesting to explore the closeness of pattern alignment with other validated measures such as attachment (a term used in psychology that describes the strength of the emotional bond) between people and their dogs. It seemed that something as simple as sharing time with your dog on the couch at the end of a day might be enough to promote this effect.
Question: Will we notice a physical difference when in the company of dogs?
Mia Cobb: Speaking for myself, I feel more light-hearted when in the company of my dog. He distracts me from every day stresses, promotes me to get outside and exercise, makes me laugh every day with his antics and gives me company, even when other family members are away. I think I'm a fairly typical dog owner and that others share these feelings. Physically, these things probably result in a lower heart rate and blood pressure than I'd otherwise experience, and I suspect I feel less stressed than I otherwise would.
Question: Why do pet owners have greater self-esteem?
Mia Cobb: Pets can be important sources of social support to people, which provides many positive benefits to their owners, including greater self-esteem, better resilience to loneliness and finding it easier to get to know people.
Question: How can Australians support the #HeartsAligned project?
Mia Cobb: We would love for you to watch the video and share photos of your own dog on social media using the hashtag #HeartsAligned. Posts on Facebook will trigger the $1 donation to Pet Rescue.
Interview by Brooke Hunter