Science is adding a new reason to the list of why dogs are awesome – they’re good for your health. The health benefits of pets have been obvious for years, but now science is finally catching up. Doctors are prescribing pet adoption for issues as wide-ranging as depression, obesity and heart disease.
Why do pets help health? The short answer is, they make us happy. Pets reduce stress by triggering the release of serotonin and dopamine, brain chemicals that create happiness. Less stress means lower blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, reducing your risk of heart disease.
Pet parents with dogs are more likely to exercise and socialize – both proven to prevent obesity and depression. Pets are great conversation starters and reduce social isolation, which can affect your immune system and mental wellbeing.
The mental health benefits of pets are well-known; therapy and emotional support animals have been helping humans for years. Dogs’ outgoing attitude is due to their fearlessness of starngers, says Brian Hare, co-director of Duke University’s Canine Cognition Center. “We’ve done research on this, and what we’ve found is that not only are most dogs totally not xenophobic, they’re actually xenophilic – they love strangers!”
Universities, nursing homes, and prisons all use therapy dogs as a way to reduce stress. If you’re suffering from depression, anxiety or other mental health issues, ask your doctor about an emotional support animal. With a letter from a mental health professional, you can have your pet certified. If you’re a renter, all facilities must allow your animal and all pet fees are waived.
Get moving with your pet to help you both get healthy and happy. The health benefits of exercise are immense – it’s been proven to boost mood and energy, improve sleep quality, and increase self-esteem. Both pets and humans are recommended to get moving for at least 30 minutes daily.
Jogging, walking, rollerblading and bicycling can all be done with a dog in tow. Spice up your routine by moving to the beach or trail – contact with nature has health benefits similar to pets’.
Dogs are great icebreakers! Whether you’re new in town or going through a breakup, Fido can help you meet new friends, both canine and human. The dog park, beach and even downtown are all great ways to meet fellow pet parents and admiring bystanders. Studies have shown social relationships can add years to your life and reduce cognitive and physical decline in old age.
Kids can also benefit from pets, especially in adolescence. A study found children were more likely to confide in Fido when upset. Research is also debating the benefits of pets and preventing allergies; exposure to pet dander and fur early in life may desensitize kids and stop development of allergies.
Daily dog-related chores like walking, feeding and potty breaks reinforce responsibility and can be used to teach kids about nutrition and exercise. Teenagers especially can benefit from contact with pets, who help reduce some of that angst and stress.