Your four-legged furry friend may be more than just a good cuddle and fetch partner. Your dog can actually be very beneficial for your health!
Whether you own a dog, volunteer with dogs, or foster dogs, your interaction with them can be wonderful for your health and well-being. And if you do not have any interaction with dogs yet in your life, new and previously established studies may convince you otherwise
Study in Sweden Shows The Health Benefits of Dogs
A new wide scale study published in December 2017 at Uppsala University in Sweden looked at the entire population of Sweden, from ages 40 to 80, from 2001 to 2012, excluding everyone who had previous cardiovascular hospitalizations.
The findings of the study showed that death from cardiovascular disease—and death from all other causes—was 20% lower amongst dog owners!
The co-author of the study and the Associate Professor Epidemiology at Uppsala University, Tove Fall, explained that the main reason for these findings is exercise.
Fall says, about 30 previous studies have shown “quite robustly that dog owners get more physical exercise, and especially daily exercise.” However, this long term, wide scale study showed that this improvement in cardiovascular health from dogs actually leads to a longer life.
The study also found that for single people, a dog may add years to your life!
“We’ve known for a long time that people who are single have a shorter lifespan than people living in families,” Fall explains. “But, when we added on the dog data, we could see that the dogs actually neutralized that effect. It looked in the data like a dog could be a substitute for a human family member. … This could, of course, be caused by single owners having to do all the exercise, taking all the dog walks, but it could also be more of the social support side. You get more company and you also get more social interactions, both with your pet [and] with other dog owners that you meet outside.”
The breed of the dog is an important factor when fully understnanding the health benefits. In the study, owners of pointer and retriever dogs showed the lowest risk of cardiovascular disease. In general, dogs that are more active are better for your health as opposed to dogs that don’t require much activity such at toy breeds, like a Chihuahua.
However, this recent study is not the only good news for dog owners! Dogs have been founds to improve your health, wellness and overall life in many different capacities.
We will look at 8 different ways that dogs can make a positive impact on your life! And then, if you do not already have a dog in your life, we will recommend two different ways to spend more time with these lovable pups.
8 Other Health Benefits of Owning a Dog
1. Lose Weight
The month of January means a lot of people are trying to lose weight. One unusual, but effective way of holding yourself to your resolutions is to own a dog!
A small study in 2010 found that public housing residents that walked “loaner” dogs five times a week lost an average of 14.4 pounds over the course of one year. And since the participants considered it a responsibility to the dog instead of an exercise, they felt more inclined to do it regularly.
Other research studies have found the same thing. This is because dogs force you to walk them for at least 10, 20, or 30 minutes a day—and this exercise adds up in pounds dropped!
2. Make New Friends
For a lot of people, getting out and making new friends can be a challenging task. However, if you own a dog, that task is much easier.
Studies have found that about 40% of dog owners make friends more easily than non-dog owners. This may be because the vast majority of dog owners—4 out of 5 dog owners, according to one British study—speak with other dog owners during walks.
Kay Joubert, Director of Companion Animal Services at PAWS, an animal advocacy organization says, “Dog owners in particular tend to be a little more extroverted, or outgoing. When you start to engage them about their companion animal, people tend to open up and really blossom. They want to share stories about their favorite friend.”
3. Reduce Stress
There is a reason that therapy dogs are so effective. Researchers find that spending just a few minutes with a dog can lower blood pressure and anxiety. Plus, these pets have been shown to increase levels of serotonin and dopamine—two neurochemicals that are major factors when it comes to calmness and wellbeing.
Additionally, people performing stressful tasks actually do a better job when there’s a dog around too. Studies show that dogs can ease tension both in the office and between married couples.
So, if you deal with high stress on a regular basis, you may want to find comfort in a dog companion!
4. Increase Sense of Meaning and Purpose
For many people, finding a sense of meaning and purpose in life can be difficult. This can be especially hard for those going through a transition in life such as people entering retirement. Newly retired individuals can often find it hard to feel a sense of purpose without the structure of the workday.
Krist Littrell, Adoption Manager at Best Friends Animal Society in Utah says that dogs can take care of this void: “They force people to continue to do things. So, even if you’re not feeling well emotionally or physically, the dog doesn’t care. I mean, they care, but they still want you to feed them and take them for a walk.”
Dogs have also been shown to prevent loneliness and isolation, which is a major factor in preventing a sense of meaninglessness. As Joubert explains, It helps us to not just focus on our needs. It gives us a reason to really get up in the morning. ‘I need to get up and take care of my friend here.’”
5. Reduce Doctors Visits
This is good news especially for people 65 and older. Odds are, people 65 and older with pets are 30% less likely to seek medical help than people with pets.
A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that animal-owning seniors on Medicare “reported fewer doctor contacts over the 1-year period than respondents who did not own pets.”
Owners of other types of pets like cats and birds had similar benefits, but “owners of dogs, in particular, were buffered from the impact of stressful life events on physician utilization.”
6. Stave Off Depression
It is widely believe that dog owners are less likely to become depressed than people who do not own dogs. This makes sense since dogs help in so many other areas of wellbeing and health.
However, studies show that this is especially true for two unique demographics: isolated elderly women and HIV-positive men.
Dogs that are even more effective at staving off depress are therapy dogs—animals that do not stay in your home. These dogs have been found to ease depression in all different types of people.
7. Prevent Allergies in Young Ones
Back in the 90’s, scientists feared that owning a dog contributed to a child’s allergies. However, recent research helps to prove just the opposite. A study in 2004 by the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that owning dogs and cats actually lower a child’s chance of becoming allergic to pets up to 33%.
This is a huge benefit for parents and grandparents of young children.
8. Avert Injuries and Disease
There are very many different disease and injuries that can be prevented or managed with the help of a dog. For instance, some dogs have been trained to sniff out kidney, skin, bladder and prostate cancer, among others!
People afflicted with Alzheimer’s Disease are found to be soothed by dogs. The companionship of dogs helps to mitigate emotional volatility and aggression.
Also, service dogs are known to aid people with everything from autism to traumatic brain injury to rheumatoid arthritis!
Where to Adopt or Foster a Dog
If you already own a dog, this article is good news for you! Make sure you are staying active with your pup and reap all the wonderful health and wellness benefits!
If you do not own a dog, but would like to, we recommend either rescuing a dog from a local animal shelter or, if you are not ready to commit entirely, foster a dog!
Websites like petfinder.com or aspca.com can help you locate a local shelter near you that can aid you in adopting or fostering a wonderful, new dog in your life.
Dog lovers can rejoice! There are so many benefits of owning a dog. New studies are coming out all the time encouraging dog adoption and fostering!
Dogs can help your heart, your body, your social life, and your mental health. What is not to love?