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There’s nothing better than coming home at the end of a long day to a wagging tail welcoming you in the door. Though you may not be able to have a two-sided conversation with your canine friend, dogs offer company and companionship that can improve your mood and your mental health. Research shows pet owners can experience a wide range of mental and physical health benefits ranging from reduced anxiety and depression to improved cardiovascular health.
The term “man’s best friend” is more than just a saying – there’s scientific evidence to support the benefits of dog ownership. Here’s what you need to know about how being a dog owner could benefit your mental health.
9 Ways Dogs Are Good for Your Mental Health
Even if you’ve never experienced it yourself, you’re probably aware that animals have long been used in therapy and as assistance animals. There is a great deal of research that supports the benefits of human-animal interactions for people of all ages. This type of interaction has been known to affect mood, stress levels, anxiety, and depression – human-animal interaction has even been shown to produce physical health benefits such as lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Mental health issues are extremely common in the United States, affecting an estimated 51.5 million U.S. adults. Mental illness takes many forms, but the symptoms often overlap from one condition to another. Not only do many disorders share common symptoms, but treatment methods may overlap as well. In addition to pharmaceutical treatment and psychotherapy, something as simple as owning a dog could be extremely beneficial for people with mental health issues.
Here are 9 ways having a dog can be good for your health:
1. People with dogs may be less likely to suffer from depression than those without. Dogs provide companionship that can help ease depression symptoms.
2. Having a dog could help lower your blood pressure. In one study, people with hypertension who adopted a dog exhibited a significant decrease in blood pressure after 5 months.
3. Playing with a dog (or another animal) can increase production of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, helping mitigate symptoms of anxiety and stress.
4. Pet owners have been shown to have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels than those without. Both of these are indicators of heart disease.
5. Pet owners who suffer a heart attack are more likely to survive than those without pets.
6. People over the age of 65 who own pets make 30% fewer doctor visits than non-pet owners.
7. Owning a dog can increase your daily or weekly activity level which may help you lose weight and improve your cardiovascular fitness.
8. Alzheimer’s and dementia patients seem to experience less stress and have fewer outbursts if they have a dog or cat in the home.
9. Having a pet in the home can be helpful for children by easing separation anxiety, teaching empathy, and helping reduce behavioral issues.
Owning a dog can be beneficial at any stage of life. For children, having a dog can help teach responsibility and walking the dog is an opportunity for healthy exercise. In some cases, owning a dog can even benefit a child’s mental health. For example, children with ADHD can benefit from learning to care for a dog. In older individuals, having a dog can be a source of companionship, helping to mitigate feelings of isolation or loneliness while providing some structure for daily life.
How Having a Dog Can Help Improve Your Lifestyle
The company and companionship your dog offers on a daily basis can be incredibly beneficial for your mental health, but owning a dog can be good for you in other ways as well. For one thing, owning a dog could play a role in helping you make healthy changes to your lifestyle.
Here are some of the ways in which owning a dog can help you make healthy lifestyle changes:
• Increased activity level. One of your most basic responsibilities as a dog owner is taking your dog for his daily walk. Though energy levels vary from one breed to another, most dogs need a daily walk to work off their excess energy and to maintain their physical health. By taking your dog for his daily walk, you’ll enjoy the benefits of increased activity as well.
• Adding structure to your day. Dogs are creatures of habit and they thrive on routine. Having a dog may help you build structure into your day around your dog’s feeding and exercise habits. If you’re struggling with anxiety or depression, creating and sticking to a routine could help.
• Improved self-confidence. Owning a dog is a big responsibility, but research shows that taking ownership and working to improve your skills in a certain area can help you build self-esteem. In taking care of your dog, you may also gain confidence in your ability to care for yourself.
• Relief from stress. Stress is a constant struggle for all of us, so it is important to take steps to manage your stress levels. Simply playing with a dog has been shown to boost the mood and owning a dog has been known to help reduce anxiety, depression, and stress.
• Helping you meet new people. Having a dog means taking your dog on walks and making trips to the dog park. All of these activities provide opportunities to meet and interact with new people which can help alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation. Face-to-face interaction is particularly beneficial for individuals aged 50 and older.
No matter your age, owning a dog can be beneficial for your mental and physical health. Between providing companionship and creating a daily routine, pet ownership gives life a sense of meaning and purpose that can be easy to lose sight of when times are tough. Though you should never get a dog on a whim, if you’re looking for a way to improve your mental health, bringing a dog into your life might be an option you should consider.