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It's Science: Dogs Make Us Stronger and More Sane

January 10, 2017

It's Science: Dogs Make Us Stronger and More Sane

Dogs don’t just make us happy, they make us stronger, healthier and more emotionally fit. Read on to learn about the scientifically-proven health benefits to having a pup in your household.

1. Lower blood pressure

Did you know that dogs are sometimes more effective than medicine at reducing high blood pressure? Dr. Karen Allen, a researcher at University of Buffalo, studied the cardiovascular effects on 48 stockbrokers when half of the group welcomed a dog or cat into their home. What happened during high stress situations? The stockbrokers with pets had consistently lower blood pressure than pet-free group.

2. Lower cholesterol and reduced risk of heart disease

A number of studies have linked dog ownership to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. One big factor behind this finding is exercise. Dog owners who walk their pups are on average more physically active than dog-free owners (including cat owners). Greater physical activity leads to lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. A second factor is stress. Dogs reduce stress, anxiety, and depression in their owners. This in turn helps keep blood pressure - which is associated with an increased risk of heart disease - in check. 

3. Prevent allergies in children

Parents of newborns sometimes give pets away when a newborn arrives, worried that dirt and dander from their pet will put the baby at greater risk of infections. A Finnish study proved that these parents' concerns are largely unwarranted. Overall, children who grew up in households with dogs were 44% less likely to develop ear infections and 29% less likely to use antibiotics than children who were raised in pet-free homes.

4. Strengthen immune system in adults*

Dogs drag a lot of dirt and bacteria into the household. University of Arizona researchers are looking to prove that kisses from dogs (specifically contact with dog saliva) actually strengthen the composition of healthy bacteria in the human gut. The researchers are analyzing a group of 50-60 year olds in good health who have not lived with a pet for at least 6 months. According to ABC News, “the dog’s microbiome would beneficially influence the human microbiome, which would affect the human’s immune system response.”

*This study is currently taking place at the University of Arizona

5. Relieve chronic pain

Did you know simply petting your dog can mitigate chronic pain and relieve depression? The University of Missouri-Columbia researched the biological effects of petting your dog. The researchers discovered that simply petting your pup results in hormonal changes in your body. According to NBC News, the research concludes “a few minutes of stroking our pet dog prompts a release of a number of "feel good" hormones in humans, including serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin.” These hormones interact with receptors in our brain to reduce pain recognition.

6. Relieve anxiety, stress and depression

Laughter really is the best medicine. Do you ever just stare at your dog and burst out laughing when he or she does something silly or absurd? Laughter boosts physical, emotional and social well being. According to wellness company helpguide.org, “laughter can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, strengthen your immune system, and diminish pain... laughter relieves physical tension and stress… [and] improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow”. In other words, laughter is good for the mind, body and heart.

7. Boost self-esteem and enhance social connections

Dogs are natural conversation starters and enhance connections between pet lovers. They also boost self-confidence. Multiple studies have linked children who grow up with dogs and enhanced social skills, empathy and grade performance. The New York Times reported on Oregon State University’s research on preschool children with dogs: “Children who were regularly given the opportunity to care for a puppy at their preschool, as well as those with pets at home were found more socially competent. They were more popular, felt better about themselves and were better able to understand other children's feelings.”

8. Make you live longer**

University of Sydney researchers are currently analyzing the relationship between dog ownership and lifespan. Their theory? Dog ownerships helps you live a happier, longer life. Associate Professor Manos Stamatakis is leading the study and explains his team’s hypothesis: “We know that with older age comes increasing isolation, and with that comes loneliness. It’s a major cardiovascular disease risk factor, it’s a major cancer risk factor, and it’s a major risk factor for depression… One aspect of human isolation can be addressed simply by owning a dog, because of their companionship, unconditional acceptance and love.”

** This study is currently taking place at the University of Sydney

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