We all know there are benefits of having a dog, but did you know they make you healthier, too? From cardiovascular fitness to mental stability, dogs provide a whole lot more than tail wags and cuddles.
Dogs improve your mood
Numerous studies have shown that having a pet can lessen the symptoms of depression and help pet parents maintain a positive, optimistic outlook. As author and animal expert Karen Winegar noted in a 2009 interview with the New York Times, “The human-animal bond bypasses the intellect and goes straight to the heart and emotions and nurtures us in ways that nothing else can.” Animal companionship can be an important, even life-saving component of self-care for people experiencing depression and other mood disorders.
Dogs reduce stress
In addition to helping your overall mood, the benefits of having a dog include a measurable impact on stress levels. Spending time with an animal increases your level of the hormone oxytocin, often referred to as the “love hormone,” a neurotransmitter that increases trust and reduces fear. Oxytocin helps you and your dog bond with each other and relax, so petting your dog isn’t just pleasant, it’s physiologically beneficial to you both.
Dogs are good for your heart
According to the American Heart Association, another benefit of owning a dog (or any pet), can help lower your risk of heart disease in large part because having a dog causes you to be more active, and physical activity is the best thing for your heart.
Dogs keep you moving
Dogs need exercise, and for many of us, walking the dog is an important part of our own fitness routine. It’s not just your cardiovascular health that benefits from a few brisk walks every day.
Regular dog walks can also improve your muscle tone, bone health, flexibility, and lung capacity. Several studies have shown that dog parents who regularly walk their dogs get more exercise per week than non-dog-people, and are more likely to meet the federal criteria for regular moderate or vigorous exercise.
Your dog might save your life
Dogs are incredible companions, and in addition to helping us stay active both mentally and physically, some have the ability to alert us to serious health risks.
Dogs can be trained to alert diabetic people to dangerous changes in blood sugar levels; warn epileptics that a seizure is coming; and even sniff out cancer before a person demonstrates symptoms. Of course, medical alert dogs require special training and particular skillsets, but they speak to the overwhelming benefits of being a pet parent.