As every dog owner can attest, dogs make our lives better. They make us feel better, they love us unconditionally, they protect us, and they’re always there for support when the world gets us down. But it turns out they do more for us than we might even realize. From improved mood and fitness to longer lives, here’s 10 ways dogs make us happier and healthier.
Lower Your Blood Pressure
From stroke to heart attack, high blood pressure can have lethal, life-changing consequences. Did you know owning a dog can help lower your risk of blood pressure and blood-pressure-related health issues? In one study, researchers at the University of South Carolina, Columbia found that simply petting or speaking to an animal was enough to lower one’s blood pressure. When both petting and speaking to an animal, subjects’ blood pressures dropped even lower.
Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease and Improve Your Chances of Surviving a Heart Attack
While scientists are still working out the details of why, studies consistently show pet owners are less likely to suffer from heart disease. In addition to lower cholesterol and healthier hearts, dog owners are also more likely to survive a heart attack should one occur.
Help You De-Stress
Dog owners have long recognized the therapeutic rewards of their pups. After a long, stressful day at the office, those warm puppy greetings and loving smiles are just what the doctor ordered to help you unwind. A study conducted at Virginia Commonwealth University has now confirmed this, finding that spending time with dogs can significantly lower your stress levels. Fortunately, our doggies benefit from the interaction, too—research has shown dogs experience less stress after enjoying one-on-one time with humans as well.
Make You Fitter
On average, pet owners live healthier, more active lives. From daily walks and park visits to activities like hiking, having a dog can significantly raise your cardiovascular activity. But by how much? The international Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity reports that dog owners enjoy 50 more minutes of physical activity each week than those without pets.
Strengthen Your Immune System
Do you commonly suffer from colds, infections and other annoying illnesses? Owning a dog might help. Research suggests owning a dog increases one’s secretion of immunoglobulin A, an antibody crucial to immune system health. Furthermore, it was found that children raised in homes with a pet are sick less often than those who weren't.
As you might have guessed, loneliness and depression can be alleviated by owning a dog. Research shows that when humans interact with dogs, certain hormones are released into the bloodstream, including oxytocin, serotonin and prolactin, all of which are tied to improved mood and decreased depression.
Reduce Chronic Pain
Following surgery or catastrophic accident, patients often require prolonged use of pain medication to treat their symptoms. Sadly, these medications come with serious side effects, not to mention the risk of addiction. Owning a dog, it turns out, can help lessen your dependence on such medication. A study conducted at Loyola University Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing found that joint replacement patients needed less pain medication following surgery when their therapy included animal interaction.
Increase Life Expectancy
Given all the health benefits associated with dog ownership, it should come as no surprise that pups help increase our life expectancy, too. By lowering the risk of depression, stress and heart disease, and by helping increase the frequency of exercise and immune system health, dogs allow us to live longer, healthier lives. It’s not just physical health, either. Owning a dog has also been shown to help prevent cognitive decline, such as dementia.
Improve Your Relationships
Ever wonder why people with pets tend to be more friendly? Research has found those with strong animal relationships enjoy better social lives and more stable relations with fellow humans. A study conducted by the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University concluded that people with close animal bonds are typically more involved with their community and more empathetic toward others.
They Can Help Recovery From TraumaSeveral traumas—from assault to warfare—are known to be helped by consistent interaction with animals, dogs in particular. For example, soldiers suffering from PTSD have shown drastic, life-saving improvements on account of animal therapy. Scientists believe the hormone oxytocin—which is released into the bloodstream when humans engage with animals—is likely the cause. Oxytocin is associated with increased trust, social activity and improved mood.