We all know our pets make us happier, of course, but healthier? Does owning a dog actually set you up for a lifetime of better health? Some scientists think so.
Of course, there are plenty of hygiene obstacles to overcome when you invite a dog to live in your home, but plenty of research says the drawbacks are far outweighed by the benefits. Here are four unexpected ways your dog is actually improving your health.
Dogs vastly improve our mental health.
Science says so. Study after study has shown that interacting with a pet causes the brain to release helpful oxytocin, otherwise known as the “feel good hormone.” Dog owners also appear to have lower production of cortisol, a hormone that can be linked to higher levels of stress.
Dog owners – and pet owners in general – have been proven to have lower levels of anxiety and depression, and even higher self-esteem! (Who doesn’t get an ego boost from a tail wagging when you walk in the door?) Dogs are so good at calming our nerves there’s even an entire structured form of therapy called Pet Therapy, or AAT (Animal-Assisted Therapy.) Pet therapy can improve motor skills and movement and even decrease the symptoms of loneliness and isolation felt by those with long-term illnesses.
Dogs boost our immunity.
Turns out every sloppy kiss your dog gives you is helping your health. Studies actually show that dogs boost our immune systems by spreading microorganisms throughout our environment. Since humans and dogs naturally carry a lot of the same bacteria, so it makes sense that additional exposure makes us all a little better equipped to fight off infection.
And if you’re worried about allergies? Studies show that kids who live with dogs are actually less likely to develop allergies and asthma over the course of their lives. Those same kids were also less likely to develop the skin condition eczema, too. Pet away!
Dogs help our hearts.
There are really very few heart conditions that don’t appear to be improved by dog ownership. Researchers have found that dog owners have lower cholesterol levels as well as lower blood pressure. These, in turn, make dog owners less likely than the general public to suffer from heart attacks!
In addition to having fewer heart attacks to begin with, dog owners appear to be more likely to survive heart attacks when they have them, too. Cat owners taking part in the same studies did not enjoy the same levels of heart-healthy protections.
Dogs make us more likely to exercise.
Any dog owner will probably tell you they’re more active with a dog than without. From daily walks to chasing squirrels, our dogs are hardwired to live active, mobile lives. That rubs off on us! Studies prove that dog owners are over 50% more likely to achieve the recommended daily allotment of exercise than non-dog owners, regardless of age or breed of dog.
Dog owners are more likely than others to get around 30 minutes of physical exercise a day. Most of the exercise comes through walking, but lifting a dog, bending to fill up food and water bowls, and the inevitable games of fetch also contribute. A dog walk a day keeps the doctor away!
Who knew our dogs were so good for us? Well, science did. Humans have sought out the companionship of dogs for centuries, but it seems there might be a more biologically-driven reason we all love our dogs so much.
How does your dog help keep you healthy? Tell us in the comments!