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Puppy Power: 6 Ways Dogs Improve Your Mental And Physical Health

Puppy Power: 6 Ways Dogs Improve Your Mental And Physical Health

August 26th marks National Dog Day, a campaign celebrating man’s best friend. In honour of this, we spotlight dog ownership’s mental and physical health benefits, including reduced blood pressure, improved well-being and lower mortality rates.

Man’s best friend

From sniffing out narcotics and pulling sledges to guiding the blind and detecting landmines, dogs continue to serve humans in numerous capacities. More than that, however, many of us consider dogs as family.

The unique bond between man and dog can be witnessed in the following epitaph, written by an Ancient Greek citizen in mourning for his furry friend:

“I am in tears while carrying you to your last resting place as much as I rejoiced when bringing you home in my own hands fifteen years ago.”

Humans were already treating dogs as intimate companions 15,000 years ago, as suggested by dog remains found alongside humans in burial sites from the time.

At one of these sites, the remains show clear signs of healing from injuries, suggesting his masters nursed him back to health on multiple occasions.

August 26th marks National Dog Day, a campaign to celebrate our furry friends and raise awareness about adopting a canine companion.

In light of this, we’re shining a light on the many health benefits- both mental and physical- of owning a dog- from reduced blood pressure to improved mood and lower mortality rates.

Before we begin, it’s important to note that you should only adopt a dog if you have the time and resources to do so long-term.

Taking on the responsibility of looking after a dog is a rewarding- but weighty- decision and shouldn’t be taken lightly.

CRAZY FACT☝ The first animal to orbit the earth was Laika the dog, a Russian stray launched into low orbit in 1957.

Cuddling a dog can trigger a cocktail of feel-good chemicals

An ongoing advertising campaign run by Manypets insurance labels dogs a “legal high”, owing to the fact they trigger a cocktail of feel-good chemicals!

Cuddling with a dog can boost happiness hormones such as serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin- a cocktail of neurotransmitters which can help reduce stress and improve your overall well-being.

Take oxytocin, commonly known as the “cuddle hormone”. This chemical is found in all social mammals and helps facilitate bonding. It is seen in high amounts when mothers breastfeed their newborn babies.

Oxytocin decreases stress hormones like cortisol, increasing a person’s sense of contentedness and calmness.

As such, it can improve well-being and sleep quality. Considering that stress can both drive and augment gut health issues, snuggling a pet may be able to help calm your gut as well as your mind!

Dog ownership is associated with improved heart health

A study published by the American Heart Association found that dog owners recover better from major health events such as cardiac arrest and stroke.

Interestingly, dog ownership is linked to lower blood pressure alongside a reduction in triglyceride and cholesterol levels, suggesting a mechanism for these improved health outcomes.

Last but not least, dog ownership is associated with a 24% all-cause mortality risk, with increased exercise and reduced feelings of loneliness believed to play a part (as we shall explore).

Dogs offer more opportunities for exercise

Dog parents are 34% more likely to walk 150 minutes each week, as recommended by the American Heart Association

Dogs can be the ultimate workout buddies, incentivising their owners to get up and out in the morning.

As the American Heart Association reports, dog parents are more likely to reach their fitness goals than those without canine companions.

Just like children, they depend on us for food and exercise, meaning they can encourage us to follow a routine even if we’re not feeling like it.

For these reasons, dogs can help those with certain mental health conditions to build a regime. With that said, if you do not feel like you can feed or walk a dog regularly, it’s not fair to adopt.

Dogs can reduce feelings of loneliness (and the associated health risks)

Loneliness can adversely impact your mental health, but it can also reap havoc on your physical health. For example, loneliness has been linked with increased blood pressure, a weakened immune system and an increase in overall mortality risk.

Researchers suspect this is because loneliness leads to reduced physical activity, impaired sleep and depressive symptoms, translating to health issues.

Research suggests that having a dog around reduces a person’s sense of loneliness, especially in high-risk groups such as the elderly.

Additionally, dogs encourage their owners to have more social interaction with other humans, further fortifying them against the physical health risks related to loneliness (high blood pressure and cholesterol).

According to a survey from the University Of York comprising 6000 respondents, 90% of people found that their pets reduced feelings of loneliness and improved their mental health during the pandemic.

DID YOU KNOW?☝ According to one study, dogs and humans share many similarities in the microbiome, looking more alike at a microbial level than humans are to pigs or mice. The research team suggest the possibility of using dog microbiomes as models for human microbes and vice versa!

Dogs may help you sleep better

Sleeping beside your pooch can help you bond together, but it’s a personal choice and can come with downsides (such as snoring!)

Find that you sleep better next to your furry friend? If so, you’re not alone. In one study, women reported feeling more comforted and secure when sleeping beside their canine companions.

It’s not hard to see why, either. For a start, dogs can alert their owners to property theft and protect against threats. Thousands of years ago, they were likely used as an early form of house alarm against predators and other dangers.

Some specially trained dogs can ease the impact of nightmares in those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, gently waking their owners after sensing a nightmare.

Lastly, cuddling up to your pup releases a cocktail of feel-good chemicals, helping you to relax and unwind before bed.

WARNING☝ Whilst sleeping alongside dogs does offer health benefits, there can also be risks. In particular, children under 5, those over 65 and the immunocompromised are at an increased risk for infection by zoonotic diseases. As such, these demographics may benefit from sleeping separately from animals. Be careful with allowing puppies into the bed, as you could roll on them when sleeping.

Growing up with a dog may reduce your risk of allergies

Science Insider explores a few of the ways dogs can benefit human health

Some studies suggest that exposure to pets in early life can reduce a child’s risk of developing allergies, with one study reporting that exposure to two or more dogs in the first year of life can lower the risk of allergies to ragweed, bluegrass and dust mites in particular. And if you’re a cat person, you’ll be happy to hear the same effect applies too.

Another study found early exposure to any furry pet-be that cats or dogs- increase the abundance of Ruminococcus and Oscillospira bacteria- both linked to a reduced risk for obesity and atopy (positive allergic response to any pin-prick test).

It is well known that the gut microbiome trains and programs the developing immune system, calibrating immune cells to attack harmless invaders and ignore harmless compounds.

Some have theorised that dogs expose you to a greater diversity of bacteria, thereby increasing the quality and scope of your immune education.

Article summary

  • Archaeological sites dating back 15,000 years show that humans already had a special bond with canines, even burying them with human relatives
  • August 26th marks National Dog Day, a campaign to celebrate our canine companions and raise awareness about adopting
  • Dogs offer a range of mental and physical health benefits, with studies showing that dog owners live longer, have lower blood pressure and better cholesterol levels
  • Those with dogs also appear to recover better from major health events, such as stroke or heart attacks
  • Dog owners are more likely to reach daily exercise goals, offering a potential mechanism behind the improved health outcomes
  • Stroking a dog can produce feel-good chemicals such as oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine, reducing stress and inducing feelings of calm.
  • Dogs can reduce feelings of loneliness and minimise the associated health risks
  • Getting a dog is a big commitment, and the decision should not be taken lightly. However, it is a deeply rewarding experience that may benefit your health
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☝️DISCLAIMER☝This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to constitute or be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Ross Carver-Carter
Ross Carver-Carter Relationship counsellor for humans and their microbes

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