It’s no secret that owning a dog is good for your health. Researchers have crunched the numbers and found that dog owners are as much as 57% – 77% more likely to reach physical activity levels in any given week that are considered sufficient. And it makes sense. All dogs require exercise – even toy-sized “lap dogs.” At the very least, dogs require regular walking, which translates to regular walking for their human owners, but dogs also encourage many other types of physical activity – like hiking, swimming, and playing. If the physical benefit of owning dogs weren’t already enough, consider the emotional and mental benefits of dog ownership.
Studies have found dog ownership to be psychologically beneficial. Psychologists at both Miami University and St. Louis University have found that the emotional benefits from owning a dog actually rival the emotional benefits received from human friendship. Their research evaluated various mental and emotional states of pet owners and concluded that pet owners are generally less lonely and have higher self-esteems than non-pet owners.
But that’s not all. People who own dogs are actually less likely to suffer from depression and are happier overall than people who do not own dogs. In some cases, therapy via dog ownership has been shown to treat depressive episodes more effectively than prescription medication. This benefit of dog ownership helps to keep dog owners positive and well-adjusted. Dogs are also great for breaking the ice! This is especially useful when meeting strangers while out walking the dog or at a dog park. Since dogs tend to put others at ease, those who own dogs tend to have comparatively more active social lives than those who don’t. An active social life can lead to notable emotional fulfillment and mental stimulation, so this is a good thing!
Dogs are particularly helpful with reducing anxiety levels. These friendly pets have been shown to help people cope with the loss of a loved one and other types of intense grief. They also help people to cope with illness and general suffering – hence the existence of emotional therapy dogs! Dogs are brought into hospitals to visit with patients for a reason – they innately know how to make a person feel better. Humans have lived alongside dogs for thousands of years. Over the course of this incredibly long domestication of dogs, they have learned to respond to even our most subtle emotional and mental cues – they have become the ultimate human companion. It makes sense that they would have learned to do this – dogs who picked up on and responded to the emotional cues of their owners or nearby humans thousands of years ago would wind up being the dogs rewarded with food and generally looked after.
In terms of the physical benefits of owning a dog, owning a pet has also been associated with reduced blood pressure, increased heart health, less sickness, resistance to allergies, early cancer detection and treatment, and real relief from physical pain. All in all, dog ownership is a definite win for health.