May is Mental Health Awareness Month and now more than ever, many realize the importance of mental health, especially after the worldwide pandemic meant isolation and social distancing a few years ago. It is no surprise there were more dogs adopted than ever before during the pandemic because many needed companionship. There are so many reasons dogs improve our health, so on October 10, we present the top 10 ways dogs improve our mental and physical health
Research done by NBC News, Scientific Journal, International Journal of Workplace Health Management, and other sources have proven what most of us know: our dogs improve our lives and give us both mental and physical benefits. This is no surprise. Most of us pet parents already know because our dogs give us unconditional love and companionship, improve our quality of life and make us get outside for exercise more than those without a dog at home. Read on for the details behind the scientific facts which prove why humans are healthier with dogs at home.
Facts About Dog Owners
The Dog People Blog by Rover shares interesting facts about how dog parents treat their dogs more like members of the family. Many pet parents admit to keeping dogs in the house, even allowing them to sleep in their beds and on their furniture. This mutual love and understanding help create stronger bonds and healthier, happier homes. We shower our dogs with love, presents, food and treats. They add to our quality of life. Here are some fun facts they shared:
- 95% of the pet parents think of their dog as a member of the family.
- 56% of dog people say hello to their dog first when they come home, before greeting the rest of the family. (This is probably because the dog greets us BEFORE the rest of the family does.)
- 65% of dog people admitted to taking more photos of their dog than their significant other.
- 54% of families with dogs have celebrated the dog’s birthday.
- Dog ownership increases leisure time and physical activity by nearly 70%.
These facts and others have proven what most of us already know: having a dog improves our lives both mentally and physically.
10 Ways Dogs Improve our Mental & Physical Health
1. Improved Emotional Well Being
It is no surprise our dogs provide a better well-being state of mind for us as well. I’m sure you can recall a time you were feeling down or were physically ill, and your dog was right there, laying by your side. It’s almost as if they have a sense of purpose when their humans are ill. They come to sit by you, or nudge you as if to say… you matter to me. And thus, the beauty of pet ownership is solidified.
2. Improved Physical Health
If you have a dog, you are more likely to be active. Taking care of dogs require a lot of effort. Dogs need walked and they love to play. If you have a dog, you most likely have been outside taking a walk or even took your dog to the dog park recently. No matter the age of the dog, they love to be outside with you. Being outside with your dog not only improves your physical health, but your mental health too.
3. Lower Risk of Heart Disease
NBC News reported on research that linked a 33% lower death rate among heart attack survivors who lived alone. There was also a study that found people with dogs have lower blood pressure, and therefore are less likely to develop heart disease. Simply the act of playing with a dog has been shown to elevate levels of oxytocin and dopamine, which are excellent natural hormones that positively impact our physical health.
4. Makes Life More Meaningful
Last year, Pew Research Center dove into the topic of what makes life meaningful. In the study, it was the responsibility of caring for pets that made one of the top answers on the list. No surprise was that the top answer (69% of those asked) started spending time with family made their lives most meaningful. After family, there were a variety of sources that bring meaning and satisfaction to one’s life. Other answers that made the top of the list were spending time with friends and being outdoors. Then caring for pets came in after, but before listening to music, reading and religious faith. It seems in this survey, nearly half of Americans acknowledge that caring for their animals does give them a great deal of meaning and fulfillment in their lives.
5. Lowers Stress, Fear or Anxiety
There has been proof of how simply petting a dog for even 5 minutes can relieve stress. It continues to relieve stress the longer you pet the dog. Compare that to simply resting for 20 minutes and the researchers found that petting the dog was more beneficial in lowering stress. It was also discovered in comparing reading for 15 minutes versus having animal interactions for 15 minutes reduced blood pressure when associated with fear and anxiety in adults.
6. Less Stress, More Organization at work
According to a study done by the International Journal of Workplace Health Management, dogs in the workplace have a positive effect on employees. In focus groups, the employees who were allowed to bring their dogs to work were less stressed and more organized than the other group of employees who were not allowed to bring their dogs to work.
7. Service Dogs Calm, Cure and Cuddle
Service dogs are a great way for people with disabilities to cope with their surroundings. It has been proven adults with PTSD can benefit from having a dog to calm their nerves. Studies show these emotional support dogs give people with trauma caused by an illness or an accident the support they need. It has also been noted children with ADHD and autism have benefited by the calming presence of a dog. Sensory overload is sometimes an issue and the act of petting one’s dog benefits them tremendously. Because of this discovery, service animals are becoming more common for a variety of reasons. Because of this success, there is a wide variety of animal therapy, such as “Learn to Read with A Dog,” which has helped young students get over the anxiety of reading out loud when they read to a dog.
8. Improved Socialization
Dogs make it easier to meet new people. You get out of the house more with a dog. We are also more social beings when accompanied by dogs. Pet parents admit to being more outgoing and friendly when they are with their dogs. This makes social interaction easier and people are more likely to approach people with a dog as a sign of being friendly. What's the easiest opening line to get to know a person with a dog, "May I pet your dog?"
9. Gives Us Sense of Purpose
Our pets rely on us to feed them, entertain them, exercise them and keep them happy. This naturally is a big responsibility some of us need. For people who may not have a big family or are living alone, having a pet gives them a sense of purpose. It reduces depression and loneliness. Plus, it gives us the laugh we need and the welcome home we want after being away.
10. Bring Happiness
Unconditional love brings happiness to us all. If you have a dog, the way they react when you come home triggers the love and support most of us want and need. They add structure to our day, help us meet people, keep us moving and queue the endorphins for positivity just by being around us in our daily lives. Having a dog makes us more active, gets us out in nature and makes life more enjoyable. This all means more happiness in our lives. And let’s face it: we could all use that.
No Pet, No problem
If you do not have a pet yet and are considering becoming a pet mom or dad, but think the responsibilities are too much for you, it is certainly understandable. Start slow. Go to your local animal shelter and just visit with dogs or cats. There are also new pet-themed cafes or bars that allow people to interact with dogs or cats. Maybe you would be a great pet-sitter for the dogs or cats in your neighborhood. See how being with furry friends affects you. It may be that you aren’t ready for a pet. Or maybe you are. At the end of the day, remember dogs are there to accompany us through life. It may not be a magical cure for what ails us, but it will certainly make us feel less alone on this journey through life. And the bonus is you get even more love and laughs out of the deal.
Mental Health Awareness
Mental Illness Awareness Month is in May and it gives us an opportunity to talk about our mental health and heal after several distressing years for most of us. On July 16 of this year, every person in every community nationwide can dial 988 to reach trained crisis counselors who can help with mental health, substance use, or suicide crisis. Learn how 988 can help you in a crisis and what it might mean for your community with these FAQs from NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Did you enjoy this? Please share it on your social media. Or like it on our Facebook page. No matter what: be sure you enjoy those health benefits of having a dog. If you don’t, this may give you a few reasons you need to add a dog to your home!