The Health Benefits of Having a Dog

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There are emotional and physical benefits to having a dog. A dog is a source of pure, unconditional love. A dog can provide companionship and can connect you to the outside world. A dog can also keep your heart and body healthy. Exercising with your dog can help both you and your dog lose and maintain a healthy weight, and can build a strong digestive system, healthy bones and muscles, and better agility.

And the health advantages of a dog are not limited to people who have a dog at home. In the 1860s, Florence Nightingale found animal companionship was beneficial to her patients. Since then, dogs have been used in many capacities to help people recover from and manage illness, disability, and other conditions. Today, there are many animal-assisted therapy programs in prisons, schools, and hospitals that benefit many people.

1. A dog can improve your heart health

According to the American Heart Association, a benefit of owning a dog can help lower your risk of heart disease, in large part because a dog needs to be walked. The physical activity of walking and playing with your dog contributes to better overall cardiovascular health and fewer heart attacks.

What’s more, dog owners who have suffered from a heart attack have better survival rates following the event. In a 2009 study conducted at the UCLA Medical Center, heart failure patients who came in contact with therapy dogs for 12 minutes a day demonstrated notably reduced blood pressure, heart rate, and anxiety.

2. Dogs keep you fit and active

A dog may help put an end to the excuses people have for not exercising. When your dog wakes you up in the morning, you have little choice but to get up and go.

It is recommended that adults get about 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate exercise per week. Only about 50 percent of Americans get that much exercise. Dog owners are much more likely to hit that goal, as dog owners walk briskly and more often. In a recent study, dog owners on average walked 22 minutes more per day compared to people who didn’t own a dog. Brisk walking can lower the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes and other conditions. Regular dog walks can also improve your muscle tone, bone health, flexibility, and lung capacity.  And the more people walk, the more likely they will remain mobile into their 70s and 80s. Older adults who walk their dogs generally experience a lower body mass index, fewer limitations in daily living activities, and fewer doctor visits. Kids also benefit from a dog. Children can turn exercise into playtime with dog friendly activities such as playing tug-of-war, chase, or throwing a ball.

3. Your dog can help you lose weight

Feeling like you should lose some weight? A dog could be the answer. Research has repeatedly found that daily dog walks help you lose weight, since they force you to into moderate physical activity for 10, 20, and even 30 minutes at a time.

In a 2010 study discovered public housing residents who walked “loaner” dogs five times a week lost an average of 14.4 pounds over the course of a year. The best part: Participants considered it a responsibility to the dog, rather than exercise. (”They need us to walk them.”)

4. A dog can prevent kid’s allergies

It used to be thought that dogs contributed to children’s allergies. However, recent research conducted at the University of Wisconsin Department of Pediatrics found the opposite to be true. Exposure to dogs in infancy – especially around the time of birth – can actually influence children’s immune development and reduce the likelihood of certain allergic diseases.

5. Dogs keep you social

A healthy mind depends on engagement with others, which can enhance both physical and emotional health. Taking a dog for a walk gets you out of the house and can increase your social interactions. A dog provides a connection with other dog owners and with complete strangers. Next time you stop to talk to another person about their dog or your dog, you are improving your mental health.

6. Dogs are stress reducers

Even brief interactions with a dog can lower anxiety and blood pressure, and increase levels of serotonin and dopamine, two neurochemicals that play big roles in calm and well-being. People performing stressful tasks do better when there’s a dog around. Studies show dogs ease tension both at the office and between married couples.

7. A dog can help with depression

Animal companionship can be an important, even life-saving component of self-care for people experiencing depression and other mood disorders. A pet can remind you that you’re not alone. A dog gives you unconditional love, which can be extraordinarily soothing when feeling isolated. A dog also requires a regular schedule. Studies show that being needed, having to feed, walk and care for a dog, is a powerful way to anchor a person if they are experiencing the effects of depression, anxiety, or stress.

8. Dogs add meaning and purpose to life as we age

As we grow older, especially after we retire, it can be difficult to find daily structure and meaning. Dogs take care of that – they have to fed and walked, forcing you to get up and continue to do things. Walking and a feeding schedule are not likely the only factors that explain why pet ownership is linked to longevity. The companionship of a dog can help prevent loneliness and isolation, which is key in staving off cognitive decline and disease. Finding the right dog is important – some dogs are more suitable for the elderly than others. Click here for suggestions.

The down side of dog ownership among the elderly is the possibility of a fall. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), just over 86,000 falls per year are caused by pets and 88% of those falls are caused by tripping over a dog. Falls can be cataclysmic health events for people who are older and can result in serious injury (broken hips, etc.) and long hospital stays. If you’re looking to adopt, consider mobility issues, and make sure to take steps to reduce the dangers of falls.

9. The importance of service dogs

Trained service dogs can benefit people with disabilities by increasing mobility and promoting independence. Service dogs can also be trained to alert diabetic people to dangerous changes in blood sugar levels, can sniff out certain cancers, and can warn epileptics of an impending seizure. The Foundation for Service Dog Support defines a service dog as a dog that has been rigorously trained to perform tasks to assist an individual with disabilities or an illness. A trained service dog is different than an emotional support dog, therapy dog or other working dogs who under ADA law, do not qualify as service dogs.

A dog can make you happier, calmer, and feel more loved, all of which lead to overall better health. But owning a dog requires a lot of care by a dedicated owner. Owning a pet is a privilege and should result in a mutually beneficial relationship.

Sources:

American Heart Association:

http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/Owning-a-Pet-May-Protect-You-from-Heart-Disease_UCM_453586_Article.jsp#.WnuBXa6nF9M

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/health-benefits/index.html

NPR:

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/06/12/532625213/dog-owners-walk-22-minutes-more-per-day-and-yes-it-counts-as-exercise

The Foundation for Service Dog Support, Inc.:

http://servicedogsupport.org/dogs/

University of Wisconsin:

https://www.pediatrics.wisc.edu/featured-stories/allergies

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