We all know that our dogs can do wonders for our wellbeing (when they’re not chewing on the antique furniture, that is). But their impact on our lives goes beyond the feelgood factor of snuggles, licks and tail wags. We took a look at some of the reasons why dog ownership is good for your health.
The Wonders of Walkies
We’re always being told to take regular exercise – well it doesn’t get more regular than the daily (or twice daily?) dog walk. Fresh air and physical exertion is fantastic for your immune system, heart health (more on that below), muscular fitness and bone strength. Meanwhile, a recent article in the Independent revealed that two-thirds of dog owners credit their daily walk with boosting their mood and giving them valuable thinking time.
And if you want to up your fitness levels or shed a few pounds, just adapt your current walkies. You’re already in the routine, you simply need to go further and go faster! Or take a look at our blog on Getting Fit With Your Dog for some more ideas.
Brisk walking is well-known to be excellent exercise for improved cardiovascular and pulmonary fitness, hypertension and cholesterol levels. Indeed, a study in Sweden of more than 3.4 million people found that the risk of death by heart disease was lowered by 15% in people who owned dogs. This figure increases to 36% in dog owners who live alone, demonstrating that your dog’s impact on your heart health isn’t only physiological – it’s also psychological. The American Heart Association reviewed years of data on the health benefits of owning a pet and found that “several studies showed that dogs decreased the body’s reaction to stress, with a decrease in heart rate and blood pressure when a pet is present as opposed to when a pet is not present.”
All that unconditional love, not to mention excellent listening skills, make dogs fabulous companions. Their loyalty and friendship can be invaluable in preventing loneliness, while dog walking is brilliant for social interaction. As we all know, dogs have magical powers as conversation starters. “Animals have the ability to create connections that transcend racial, cultural, physical and socioeconomic differences,” says Dr Sandra McCune, scientific leader in human-animal interaction at the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition. “Simply seeing people out walking dogs can make a neighbourhood feel safer, particularly for women.” Studies have also shown that having a dog around can ease tension at the office and between married couples. No wonder we call them (wo)man’s best friend.
Studies have shown that pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets. A survey by Lintbells founds that 80% of dog owners are ‘happy’ or ‘very happy’ with their life – that’s 10% more than those who don’t have a four-legged friend.
Our dogs become attuned to our behaviour and emotions – somehow knowing when we need extra love and support. And the simple act of stroking a pet can lower anxiety and blood pressure, and increase levels of serotonin and dopamine. Add to this the laughter therapy you undoubtedly get from having a dog around and the endorphins released during walkies and it’s no wonder having a dog is widely considered to be a significant contributor to overall health and wellbeing.