We’re pretty sure we can all agree that 2020 has been … well, quite a year. School closures, missed vacations and postponed weddings, shelter-in-place orders, social distancing, civic protests, job and restaurant closures—the world we currently live in has become a very turbulent place. From a global pandemic and resulting economic recession to civic unrest, there’s been a lot of uncertainty in all our lives—whether that be financial, emotional, or health related uncertainty—and it all takes a toll on our overall health.
If there’s anything we’ve learned this year, it’s that sometimes we just have to relish the small moments as they come.
And who better to remind us to stop and smell the proverbial roses than man’s best friend, the beloved dog? Most pet owners can confirm that snuggling with Fido after a stress filled day can instantly lighten the mood. That dopamine rush reaction you get when your dog licks your cheek and nuzzles into your neck isn’t merely a fluke. Numerous studies have proven that spending time with a pet can eliminate stress and improve your overall sense of well-being.
Let’s take a look at a couple of the surprising ways in which adopting a dog can improve your overall health.
Dogs Get You Moving
There are many studies that suggest pet owners experience significant physical benefits from owning a dog. Specifically, walking your dog daily not only encourages responsible pet ownership, but it’s beneficial for your own health as well.
So it’s no surprise that people who walk their dogs daily are more likely to get the recommended amount of physical activity than those who don’t. One study found that pet owners who walk their dogs got up to 30 minutes more exercise a day than non-walkers.
Some of the physical health benefits of having a dog include:
Decreased blood pressure
Decreased cholesterol levels
Decreased triglyceride levels
Increased opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities
Dogs Improve Overall Heart Health
It begs to reason that an overall increase in physical activity provides many heart health benefits. As such, according to the American Heart Association, dog ownership has been shown to decrease your risk of heart disease. Studies suggest that dog owners experienced a 24% reduced risk of all-cause mortality and are 65% less likely to die after a heart attack. Those who had suffered cardiovascular-related issues were also 31% less likely to pass away.
While we don’t know the exact reasons for these findings, it could be because dog owners potentially walk more, have a good social circle, and have lower stress, which are all important to heart health.
Dogs Are Therapeutic
Pets make great companions, which is particularly important now, when so many of us are isolated and dealing with higher levels of stress. In fact, pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets. Admittedly, coming home on a bad day to a wagging tail at the door will put a smile on anyone’s face.
And studies have shown that simply having a dog lowers stress levels. One study suggested that individuals who owned a pet had a less dramatic physiological response to stress (as measured by heart rate and blood pressure). Scientists also noted that pet ownership is particularly beneficial to those with little by way of social support systems, since those who feel socially isolated tended to respond more drastically to psychological stress.
In fact, petting a dog is not only relaxing, but can literally lower your blood pressure and cut down on levels of certain stress hormones while increasing the levels of serotonin and dopamine your body produces, making you feel calm and stress free.
Dogs can help ease depression, stress, anxiety, and many other psychological ailments. Their affectionate and loyal nature readily encourage bonding with their human, and it’s pretty impossible to resist such ecstatic and unconditional love.
Welcoming a dog into the family is a big decision with big responsibilities, as well as many wonderful benefits.
So, the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and anxious, consider adopting a dog or volunteering at your local animal rescue facility. We have a lot of wonderful dogs here at BCARL that would love to meet you, and we’re always looking for volunteers. Of course, don’t be surprised if you get so caught up in your new pup's playful romps, sweet nibbles, and cozy cuddles that you forget why you were stressed in the first place.