A recent study by the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services in Washington, D.C. concluded that the many benefits of dog walking included a lower body mass index, fewer chronic conditions and depressive symptoms.
Now, you could say that it is nothing to do with having a dog. Just the walking will give you the same benefits. However, the same study indicated that having a dog gave owners a sense of purpose so they were motivated to exercise.
But, in my experience, there is another aspect of dog walking that has been overlooked, perhaps even by the regular dog walkers that are exhibiting this wonderfully good health. Could their wellbeing also be down to a once popular but now unfashionable practice known as heliotherapy or light therapy?
The basis of light therapy is that exposure to the sun provides many benefits. Production of vitamin D is probably the most well known which gives us strong bones but also the healing of wounds, and to fight tuberculosis, internal cancers, psoriasis and even tooth decay.
Since the days of the ancient Greeks the therapeutic value of exposure to the sun has been known and used. It was advocated in hospital design by Florence Nightingale and, until the mid 20th century hospital windows and doors were opened each day and patients wheeled out into the light whilst the wards were cleaned. MRSA was not prevalent at that time.
Many studies have been carried out using light therapy. In 1877 Dr Arthur Downes and Thomas Blunt carried out a series of experiments to understand the effect the sun had on bacteria and other organisms and found it had a clear bactericidal effect. In 1890 Robert Koch showed that sunlight killed the bacteria that caused tuberculosis. He later won the Nobel prize for medicine in 1905. Two years earlier the same prize went to Dr Niels Finsen who practised sunlight therapy at his Light Institute in Copenhagen. His institute helped validate scientifically what had been practised for centuries in the Far East and Eastern Europe.
His work inspired Dr Oskar Bernhard who worked in the German military hospitals during the first World War to use sunlight to heal wounds and also Dr Auguste Rollier who used sunlight on his patients at his clinic in Switzerland in the early part of the 20th century. His method became known as the ‘Rollier Method’.
Apart from healing, the one aspect I have found particularly fascinating about light therapy is that sunlight, or light waves, is considered a nutrient, utilised by the pineal gland through sun gazing. Many advocates of this say that their appetites decrease substantially when practising sun gazing regularly.
All this may sound like blasphemy in our current world where the sun is shunned and we are preached to that we must wear chemical sunscreen and we must cover everything. However, the therapeutic use of sunlight, either bathing or gazing, should not be done when the sun is strongest. It should be carried out early in the morning and/or later in the day when the light waves are longer and not so potent. Which brings me back to dog walkers who usually walk their dogs in the morning and/or evening. So, what really makes them healthier than the rest of us?
Note 1: There are, of course, many more guidelines to follow in light therapy and, if you’re interested, you should seek the advice of a trained therapist or experienced sun gazer.
Note 2: Many dogs’ homes and rescue centres need volunteer dog walkers so, even if you don’t have a dog and couldn’t possibly entertain the idea of having one why not pop along to your nearest centre and help out. It won’t just do the dog good.
Jackie Notman is a copywriter, feng shui consultant and e-commerce retailer. This article is from her blog ‘Life – and everything else’ where you’ll find an eclectic mix of articles and information.
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