Guide to Freshwater Aquariums

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Health Benefits of Aquarium Fish

From Shirlie Sharpe,

Your Guide to Freshwater Aquariums.
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Health Benefits of Aquarium Fish
Do you have a stressful life, high blood pressure, insomnia? Keeping an aquarium may be good therapy for you. Studies going back as far as the late 80’s have shown that gazing at aquarium fish reduces stress and subsequently lowers blood pressure.

Fish Make a Difference
Researchers have compared the effects of hypnosis vs. an aquarium, fishless vs. fish filled aquariums, and no aquarium vs. having an aquarium. In all cases, having some sort of aquarium reduced blood pressure. Interestingly enough, greater reduction in blood pressure occurred when there were fish in the tank, vs pleasingly decorated, but fishless, tanks. Even watching a video tape of fish has been proven to have therapeutic effects.

Multitude of Benefits
Seniors who were provided with an aquarium filled with fish had significant blood pressure reduction. Watching fish has been shown to calm children who suffer from hyperactivity disorder. Dental patients who were subjected to hypnosis vs. an aquarium experienced the same or greater benefit from the aquarium. Other studies have shown that dental patients required less pain medication after having watched fish in the office. It's little wonder that physician offices, dental clinics, and even waiting rooms for counselors have traditionally kept an aquarium in the waiting room.

Aquarium Effect on Alzheimer’s
Studies have shown that seniors who have Alzheimer’s experience a variety of health benefits from watching an aquarium. Alzheimer patients ate more, and required fewer supplements after an aquarium was placed in the dining room. They also exhibited less physically aggressive behaviors.

Fish Fish Anywhere

Virtually any aquarium, from large to small, will have a benefit. A large aquarium is great, but if space is limited, a mini-aquarium will do. Seniors and students can usually find a place for an Eclipse style system. If it’s not possible to keep an aquarium, consider a video or DVD of aquarium fish. DVD players have reached rock bottom prices, and a video requires zero maintenance. Remember that many computers have DVD players these days. What better way to spend your lunch break than gazing at fish? Take advantage of the stress-relieving benefits of aquarium fish whenever, and wherever you can!

Do you have a story to share about the benefits of keeping aquarium fish? Share it on the forums.

Elsewhere on the Web

Animals, humans and stress reliefBenefits of a Zoo VisitAquariums Have Human Health Benefits

Animals, humans and stress relief

Watching fish found to ease human stress

Fish may be beneficial to your health. Not just eating them, but watching them.

Three University of Pennsylvania researchers report that quietly watching fish swimming in a home aquarium eases stress, and may offer a means of treating high blood pressure.

The fish are the key, the researchers say. People who watch fish tanks with bubbles, pebbles and plants - but no fish - don't benefit nearly as much.

"There is a sharp difference," says ecologist Alan Beck, director of the university's Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society. "Blood pressure drops with fishless fish tanks, but it doesn't drop as much and it creeps back up faster. With fish in the tanks, you truly get relaxation."

Lowered blood pressure is one way to measure reduced stress. A number of ailments have been associated with high stress in daily life, including heart attacks, sleep disorders and some ulcers.

Petting a dog or cat is a known stress-reducer. One study showed that survivors of heart attacks tended to live longer if they owned a dog.

Beck, psychiatrist Aaron H. Katcher and biologist Erika Friedmann decided to see if interaction with other animals produced similar results. They selected fish because they are such common pets. The Pet Information Bureau, sponsored by pet products companies, estimates that more than 10 million American homes have aquariums.

The researchers divided 100 paid volunteers into two groups. One at a time, they were put in a room and asked to read aloud - a proven way to induce stress - for one minute.

Then they were left alone with a fish tank for 20 minutes. Half the time there were fish in the aquarium; half the time there were none. A device automatically recorded the volunteers' blood pressure. Those who had fish to watch fared far better.

The random selection of volunteers resulted in the participation of some who suffered from high blood pressure. "For them, the fish were much better than for a normal person.

Pets and stress management.

"Pet therapy" is widely used in nursing homes, prisons, hospitals, and schools to reduce loneliness, anger, depression, and stress. A leader in the area of pet therapy research, found that cardiac patient survival rates were higher for those who owned pets, and that elderly people with pets made fewer visits to the doctor's office. Significant decreases in resting heart rate and blood pressure, as well as mood changes, have also been observed when research subjects played with their pets. Similar physiological changes were seen among the animals, too. Now ain't that great !

Science aside, pets - especially for dog-owning city dwellers - usually mean a brisk walk or two... or three... or four times a day, and that's always good for a little human stress management via fresh air and exercise. Socially, pets can be a great conversation-starter: "Oh, what a cute doggie... and not a bad master either." Of course, fish, turtles, birds, hamsters, ferrets, and other domesticated animals are capable of enhancing the relaxation response and relationship development just like their dog and cat cousins.

If you're contemplating pet ownership with the goal of stress reduction, make sure that owning and caring for Fido or Whiskers won't cause you more stress in the long-run. You might first ask yourself: are you allowed to have a pet where you live, will you or someone you trust be able to properly walk and feed your new best friend, are there children around who might be frightened (or vice-versa) by the presence of a four-legged furball and is your house or apartment big enough to meet both human and creature comfort criteria ? Also, if you live in a built up area, don't forget that you have to scoop up Fido's poop as well. Always put the pet's best interests against your reasons for wanting a companion.

Contact animal care organizations such as your local RSPCA if you are interested in pet adoption. These agencies help to control stray and unwanted animal population and find good homes for some of them. You could be doing a good favour to some deserving animal as well as yourself, some organizations may also provide important physical check-ups and vaccinations.

Suggested Reading

Mini-AquariumsTherapeutic Health Benefits of Aquariums

Therapeutic Health Benefits of Aquariums

From Stan & Debbie Hauter,

When it comes to having a pet, they not only provide us with companionship by making us feel secure, accepted and happy, they act as an anchor or stable force that helps one cope with the stresses of everyday life. Their unconditional love gives our mental and physical health a boost, and for this reason there is much to be said about the responses humans have had to pet therapy as an alternative or supplementary treatment to help reduce stress, as well as treat a whole range of medical and emotional ailments. Dogs, cats, dolphins, and many other types of social animals have been used for years for this type of therapy, with encouraging, positive results.
But what about using a fish aquarium in this way? Does aquarium pet therapy have any beneficial health merits?

People visit public places every day, and it seems more and more often that aquarium display tanks are being seen. We are hypnotized by their peaceful and serene nature, creating a calming effect for a few moments in our hectic lives. For example, have you ever been sitting impatiently and anxiously in a doctors' overcrowded office or a hospital emergency room waiting area that has had an aquarium in it? You stared into this wonderful miniature water world before your eyes and seemed less agitated and anxious. You may have felt more willing to temporarily accept that things are just the way they are, rather than get more upset or worried.

From your own experiences, no matter where the location of an aquarium you may have been seen was, did you feel this same type of stress reducing response? It's no wonder. Researchers are finding that fish aquariums, whether salt or freshwater, do have therapeutic health benefits.

Page 2 - Research Findings

There is much being done around the world to research the therapeutic benefits of aquariums, as the following reports reflect.

• At Purdue University, researchers have found that displaying tanks of brightly colored fish may curtail disruptive behaviors and improve eating habits of people with Alzheimer's disease. A Purdue News August 1999 Report states that, "Nursing Professor Nancy Edwards" tracked 60 individuals who resided in specialized units in three Indiana nursing homes. She found that patients who were exposed to the fish tanks appeared to be more relaxed and alert, and they ate up to 21 percent more food than they had before the introduction of the fish tanks.

The average increase in food consumption was 17.2 percent."

• In the August 1997 issue (no longer archived online) of the Monitor on Psychology, a publication of the American Psychological Association, Rebecca A. Clay wrote about how "Psychologists Find Animals To Be A Helpful Adjunct To Therapy". Rebecca discussed Dr. Aubrey Fine's pet therapy approach. In Fine's practice a golden retriever named Puppy typically greets patients, while several fish tanks help soothe agitated feelings. Rebecca stated that, "Fine also uses the animals metaphorically. The birds, for example, can prompt discussions of flight, freedom or clipped wings. Often the animals become symbols of the children themselves, especially when the patients have attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A particularly playful cockatoo, for example, gives Fine an opportunity to point out ADHD-like behaviors such as impulsiveness and an inability to sustain attention in a non threatening way. And a particularly active inhabitant of one of Fine's three fish tanks caused one patient to blurt out, "That fish reminds me of me!"

• From, their Pet Therapy page outlines the benefits research have found in relation to pet ownership. They say that, "Research has shown that heart attack victims who have pets live longer. Even watching a tank full of tropical fish may lower blood pressure, at least temporarily."

From a personal view, we saw the benefical health effects of a fish aquarium while a loved one was confined to a hospital for two years as a stroke patient. On the list of things to do each day, my mom Betty would excitedly ride in her motorzied wheelchair to visit her fishy friends in a freshwater aquarium at the end of the hall. She looked forward to this trip every day, and just talking about the fish made her smile and laugh as she told Stan and I all about each of them. We could plainly see that the bond she had with the fish gave her great joy, a fun adventure to look forward to each day, and contributed to the overall positive attitude she had.

You can draw your own conclusions as to the health benefits of using fish aquariums for therapy as we have, but here are some other resources that further confirm that many researchers are finding that there IS something to it!

Now, another question we have to ask is, can an aquarium actually be stress "inducing"?
Page 3 - The Other Side of the Coin

For those of us that keep and maintain a saltwater aquarium, we expose ourselves to the stress relieving benefits it has to offer on a daily basis. However, on the other side of the coin as an aquarium keeper, you have to consider possible stress inducing factors as well.

An experienced aquarist is adept at handling aquarium problems that may arise, but when first getting started there is much to learn. You worry about getting it all set up, selecting the right filtration system and tank inhabitants, cycling the tank, hope that the fish don't get sick, and, and, and... See what we mean? It's easy to reap the stress reducing benefits of an aquarium when someone else is taking care of it and all you have to do is enjoy it. Yes, there are going to be times when an aquarium will cause some stress in your life rather than reduce it, but in our opinion it is well worth it! Once you get past the initial stages of getting started and become skilled in the art of aquarium keeping, the good benefits far out weigh the bad that you may encounter over time.

If you personally feel that keeping a saltwater aquarium would be too stressful for you, there is a simple solution. Have an experienced aquarium maintenance company or person put one together for you and maintain it! There are many aquarists out there that literally thrive on and live for saltwater aquarium keeping. Why not avoid needless stress and worry by letting someone do it for you, and in turn reap the stress reducing health benefits yourself.

Did you know that aside from public display fish aquariums being good for your health, they can be applied in educational ways as well?
Source of Article

Does Having an Aquarium Decrease Stress?

The Benefits of Human/Animal Bond        by: Alex Lieber


For millions of Americans, long hours, too much coffee and a frenetic work pace are the norm. After battling traffic to get through your door, what’s a good way to soothe your jangled nerves?

Studies show that fish calmed children diagnosed with attention deficit disorder.

One proven way is to prop your feet up and watch your fish swim serenely through your aquarium. Research has found that pets calm nerves and lower blood pressure. And aquariums particularly seem to have a soothing effect. In fact, many doctor offices keep aquariums in the waiting room. Watching fish swim to and fro lowers the stress of waiting to be examined.

Research buttressed what many fish enthusiasts already know: the therapeutic benefits of aquariums. In 1999, a study showed that displaying tanks of brightly colored fish curtailed disruptive behaviors of Alzheimer patients. The fish were also credited with improving eating habits. Other studies also showed that fish calmed children diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

In general, pets have been shown to reduce stress and boost emotional well-being, even during tough times. When Jerry Greider lost his job and spent three months looking for work, it was a rough period in his life. “I spent a lot of time going on job interviews and sending out resumes, with nothing panning out,” the Seattle resident recalls. “Some days, the only thing that kept me smiling was my dog licking my face and wagging his tail. And often that was just what it took to put me in a positive frame-of-mind before an interview.”

Rachel Rushing, of Indianapolis, Ind., says when she’s fighting the blahs, all she has to do is watch her three kittens playing together. “They like to jump in and out of paper bags and hide behind furniture, as if they’re playing a game of hide-and-seek with each other,” she says. “It’s really entertaining. If I’m having a bad day, I can’t help but feel cheered up watching them play.”

Then there are the documented health benefits of pet ownership. Many studies have proven the link between a healthier, longer life and pet ownership . Though the studies have largely focused on the effects of dogs and cats, other species provide benefits as well. Keeping a pet can give you a sense of purpose and the feeling of being needed, a feeling that is especially important for people who live alone.

And coming home to your family, whether you have one pet or many, gives you something to look forward to.

“Watching your pet’s silly antics can make you laugh and help relieve stress,” says David Frei, spokesperson for the Delta Society, a nonprofit organization interested in relationships between people and animals. “Pets take away the tension that’s in your daily life, whether it’s for work or family-related problems. When you see a dog looking at you with his big, brown adoring eyes, that brings a certain relaxation to people.”

Decreased Feeling of Loneliness

Pets decrease feelings of loneliness and isolation, explains Alan Beck, Ph.D., director of the Center for Human-Animal Bond at the School of Veterinary Medicine at Purdue University. “A pet is someone to share your life with,” he says. “There’s a lot of people in this world who live alone. As a society, many of us live in apartments in big cities. We may not know our neighbors. We may be separated geographically from our extended families. Maybe we’re divorced or widowed and live alone. And so for people in these circumstance, pets can help fill the ‘people void’ in their lives.”

Purdue News

August 1999

Study: Aquariums may pacify Alzheimer's patients

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Casting about for ways to soothe Alzheimer's patients, Purdue University researchers have found that displaying tanks of brightly colored fish may curtail disruptive behaviors and improve eating habits of people with the disease.
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Nursing Professor Nancy Edwards tracked 60 individuals who resided in specialized Alzheimer's units in three Indiana nursing homes. She found that patients who were exposed to the fish tanks appeared to be more relaxed and alert, and they ate up to 21 percent more food than they had before the introduction of the fish tanks. The average increase in food consumption was 17.2 percent.

The study also showed a decrease in the number of instances and the duration of behaviors such as wandering, pacing, yelling and physical aggression.

One of Edwards' co-researchers will present preliminary findings from the study June 29 in a poster session at the International Conference on Nursing in London.

Edwards says the initial findings suggest that placing fish tanks in nursing homes may help cut health-care costs by reducing the need for nutritional supplements and for medications given to help calm disruptive patients.

"Feeding is often a terrible problem, because the patients are either running up and down the hall, or they're so lethargic that they can't stay awake to eat," says Edwards, who specializes in treating patients with chronic illnesses.

"We thought if we could calm these patients and keep their attention, we could perhaps increase their nutritional intake and decrease the amount of supplements they required. This not only would help reduce the cost of patients' care, but it's also healthier for the patients to get their nutrition from food rather than supplements."

For four weeks before placing the fish tanks in the nursing homes, Edwards collected baseline information on each patient's eating and behavioral patterns. The researchers weighed each patient's food before and after each meal, and patients were evaluated on 29 different types of social interactions and behaviors. Use of chemical and physical restraints also was recorded.

Patients in the first two studies were then introduced to the fish tanks and followed daily for four weeks to collect comparable information. After the four-week assessments, data were collected weekly for six more weeks to determine if the effect, if any, remained or diminished over time. The patients in the third study received the same treatment but were exposed to a picture of a seascape for four weeks before the aquariums were introduced.

"We wanted to see if a simple change in the environment could account for these changes in eating and behavior," Edwards says. "Though we're still sorting through the data, our preliminary findings indicate that introduction of a seascape photo had no statistical effect on patients' behavior. For the most part, members of the control group either ignored the picture or gave it only passing attention."

The tanks of colorful, gliding fish, however, often held patients' attention for up to 30 minutes -- a relatively long time for many Alzheimer's patients, Edwards says.

"I think the combination of movement, color and sound provides a stimulating experience for the patients," she says. "Often long-term care environments do not offer a lot of stimulation, but fish move around in various patterns, so there's enough variability to keep patients' interest."

Edwards says that in addition to increasing attentiveness and alertness in Alzheimer's patients, she found anecdotal evidence that the aquariums also may, in some instances, stimulate short-term memory. She recalls how one woman, who never spoke to staff members or other patients, became fascinated by the fish tank, spending long periods watching the fish.

One day, the woman approached Edwards and asked "Hey, fish lady, how many fish are in this tank, six or eight?"

Edwards, surprised by the question, told her there were six fish in the tank. "Well one time I counted six and one time I counted eight," the woman replied.

"We were absolutely amazed, because we had no idea that this woman could talk, much less count," Edwards says. "We also had a male patient who used to run a bait shop, and he would sit and talk to us about the different kinds of fish and what kinds of bait we should use to catch them. Apparently, the fish tanks stimulated some cognitive things with these people."

Previous studies have shown that pets and animals can stimulate patients and help alleviate some medical problems in the elderly, but applying those findings to Alzheimer's patients presents special problems.

"These patients have to be monitored, because they might step on the cat's tail or pull the dog's hair," Edwards says. "The nice thing about the fish tanks we used is that they are basically indestructible."

The specially designed tanks used in the study were built by Jeff Boschert and marketed through his California company, Some Thing's Fishy. Designed specifically for nursing homes, the tip-proof tanks feature locked tops and unbreakable glass, and a specially designed background that allows the fish to be easily seen by residents who may have cataracts or other vision impairments. The units also can be moved easily from room to room.

Edwards got the idea of using the aquariums with Alzheimer's patients after Boschert contacted Alan Beck, the Dorothy McAllister professor of animal ecology and director of Purdue's Center for the Human-Animal Bond. Boschert offered to donate the tanks for research after reading a book written by Beck about animals and human health. Beck put him in contact with Edwards.

She now is designing a second set of studies to replicate her findings and to further identify the factors -- such as color, motion and sound -- that stimulate patients. She also is working with a researcher at the University of North Korea to replicate the study and obtain cross-cultural information.

The study was supported by Indiana State Department of Family and Social Services Administration, Division of Disability, Aging and Rehabilitation Services. Start-up funds were provided by Sigma Theta Tau, a nursing honorary.

Sources: Nancy Edwards, (765) 494-4015;

Jeff Boschert, (800) 791-3321,

Writer: Susan Gaidos, (765) 494-2081;

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;


Purdue researcher Nancy Edwards is studying how fish may be used to help ease disruptive behaviors by Alzheimer's patients that can interfere with eating and sleeping. (Purdue News Service Photo by David Umberger)

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