The Science Is In: Having A Dog Actually Boosts Your Health - Men's Health Magazine Australia

The Science Is In: Having A Dog Actually Boosts Your Health

Turns out hanging out with man’s best friend actually does wonders for your wellbeing.

When you approach your late 20s, friendship groups suddenly divide into two parties: those who are with child, and those who are with a four-legged companion. While the quest to settle down and raise a family remains deeply embedded within the fabrics of society, these days you’ll find just as many people who are satisfied to have their every step trailed by a loyal hound. The joy dogs bring to our lives can’t be underestimated, in fact the canon of Hollywood films is practically groaning from the weight of iconic four-legged characters, from the rambunctious Marley in Marley & Me, to Lassie, and the whole cast of 101 Dalmatians. Unconditional love, without question. Devoted companionship, certainly. A constant source of entertainment (and the occasional frustration), most definitely. That dogs tick all these boxes is certain, but as science proves, dogs also do wonders for our health, too. 

Recent research proves that owning a dog is good not just for your physical health, but emotional health too. As it turns out, spending time with a canine companion does wonders for our wellbeing, making us happier, healthier and even calming us down. It’s hardly surprising that at the height of the pandemic, rates for pet adoption and foster care increased dramatically. With so many of us now working from home and having the time and capacity to care for animals, we’re now looking to fulfil our dreams of dog ownership. Dig deeper though, and it’s clear that part of the reason for the explosive boom in pet adoption has been to cure our own feelings of isolation. As the RSPCA revealed to The Sydney Morning Herald, it received 1600 adoption applications in just one week, marking a 45 per cent increase in dog adoptions since the previous year. 

So, if you’ve always wanted a dog but somehow talked yourself out of it, here’s all the proof you need: even science says it’s a good idea. Of course, it goes without saying that you should only own a dog if you know you’ll be in a position to take care of it and give it the attention, love and training it needs. In return, you’ll have a loyal, devoted companion, and one that boosts your wellbeing too. Read on for the 10 health benefits that come with dog ownership. 

They’re good for the heart

Ok, not just in the sense that they’re so adorable they pretty much cause heart explosions, but dogs are actually beneficial in that they make our heart stronger. Studies have shown that having a canine companion is linked to lower blood pressure, reduced cholesterol, and decreased triglyceride levels, which contribute to better overall cardiovascular health and fear heart attacks. 

Dogs help us feel calm

Just a few minutes with a dog can help lower anxiety, blood pressure, and increase levels of serotonin, and dopamine, two neurochemicals that have a profound impact on our feeling of calm and wellbeing. Studies have also shown that those performing a stressful task do better when there’s a dog around too (hint hint to all the bosses out there, dog-friendly offices are the way to go). 

They can encourage weight loss

Getting a dog won’t see you lose weight simply as a by-product, but with all that walking and playing around you’ll be doing, it is highly likely that you will lose weight. Research has repeatedly found that daily dog walks help you lose weight, forcing most people to do physical activity for 10, 20 and even 30 minutes at a time. 

They make us more social

After school, it can get tricky trying to meet new people without coming across as creepy when striking up conversation on the train line. Dogs, thankfully, improve our social lives by seeing us get out there on a neighbourhood walk. Researchers have found that about 40 per cent of dog owners make friends more easily. Dog owners are also found to be more outgoing.

They’re the most consistent workout buddy

Lacking motivation to exercise? Or having trouble with your workout friend who always bails on you at the last minute? You won’t get that with a dog. Health experts recommend adults get 2 hours and 30 minutes worth of moderate exercise per week, and dog owners are far more likely to hit that goal. Dogs love to be outside, and as walking is an essential part of their upkeep, it helps us stay active and get outdoors regularly. 

Dogs prevent loneliness 

There’s a reason they’re known as man’s best friend: dogs help prevent loneliness and isolation, which is an important part of helping stave off cognitive disease too. For many, it’s as simple as sticking to a routine that our dogs help create – like a walk in the park and outdoors. This can be extremely important as we age and retire from most social activities, as the dog brings a sense of meaning and purpose to our lives. 

They can sniff out life-ending diseases 

We’ve all seen the power of the dog’s nose, and it’s believed that dogs can even help detect, treat, and manage a variety of illnesses and debilitations. Some dogs have been trained to sniff out skin, kidney, bladder, and prostrate cancer, among other illnesses, while other service dogs have been shown to benefit people recovering from everything from traumatic brain injury to autism, as well as increase mobility and promote independence. For patients suffering from Alzheimers, dogs have been shown to mitigate emotional flare-ups and aggression. 

They help us through times of crisis 

In a study conducted by Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, it was found that military veterans with PTSD do better both physiologically and psychologically when they have a service dog. Veterans with a service dog had fewer symptoms of PTSD and even showed improved coping skills, showing just how important dogs are when it comes to coping with crisis. 

Dogs make us happier

In a 2009 study in Japan, researchers found that staring into your dog’s eyes raises your level of oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone.” Dogs are basically a natural mood buster, and the benefits of this are significant, particularly in today’s climate where the uncertainty of the global pandemic and countless other concerns can lead to anxiety and even depression. 

They make us more attractive. No, really

There’s always that guy at the coffee shop being swarmed by beautiful women, all of them cooing over his cute dog. As it turns out, if you’re looking to get a date, dogs actually do help in that department as their presence can make people appear more likeable and attractive. 

Don’t believe us? Consider this study where men were more likely to get a woman’s phone number when they had a dog with them. In another study by Pet Wingman, men and women were found to swipe right more when they include a profile photo of their pup. So, consider your dog the ultimate wingman. 

By Jessica Campbell

Jess is a storyteller committed to sharing the human stories that lie at the heart of sport.

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