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July 22, 2011

10 Ways Your Dog Can Improve Your Health

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Sure they are cuddly and cute, but our furry friends offer benefits that you probably never even knew about. Man’s best friend does more than make you happy, they can actually improve your health. Here are 10 ways your pet can improve your mood:

Enhance Mood

Your body produces hormones called cortisol and serotonin. Cortisol is a hormone that is related to stress and serotonin is related to your overall well-being. When you spend about 15 to 30 minutes with your dog, cortisol levels are lowered and serotonin levels are increased. Your well-being is heightened and your stress level is decreased.

Lower Blood Pressure

Even though they won’t cure your high blood pressure, dogs sure can have an impact. They tend to have a calming effect on humans, which in turn lowers stress levels.

According to WebMd, “In one study of 240 married couples, pet owners had lower blood pressure and lower heart rates during rest than people who did not own a pet. That held true whether they were at rest or undergoing stress tests.”

Lower Cholesterol

There are so many foods out on the market these days that claim to help lower cholesterol. While these foods do help, wouldn't it be more fun to play with a dog than eat some type of food you don't necessarily like? Well, good news! Dogs actually can help you reduce your cholesterol levels.

Pet owners tend to have a more active lifestyle, their cholesterol levels have been found to be lower than those who do not own pets. The calming effect that a dog or cat can have on a person's well being really helps reduce stress. Lower stress levels = lower cholesterol.

Lower Chance of Heart Attack

Since hanging out with your furry friend can lead to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, it is no surprise that it can also lower your chance for a heart attack. WebMd reported that “Over the 20 years of one study, people who never owned a cat were 40% more likely to die of a heart attack than those who had. Another study showed that dog owners had a significantly better survival rate one year after a heart attack.”

Fight Depression

Therapy dogs are becoming more and more popular in today’s society. Dogs are great listeners and you know they will never talk bad about you or your problems which is why they make great therapists.

Clinics are using dogs more often in the office to help ease patients. People usually find it easier to talk to a dog than a psychiatrist. Sometimes the psychiatrist can better point out what’s really on a patient’s mind when they get them to hold conversations with the dog.

Since dogs lead to a better mood and more stress, dogs are helping people battle depression. It is important to stay interactive and engaged with others, especially those with depression.

Having a dog can spark up a conversation among anyone, especially on long walks. These conversations allow for more socialization and a healthy mind.

Fight Obesity

No need to pay $50 a month on a gym membership because you have a dog that would be happy to work out with you for free! Let’s face it, you have to let your dog outside anyway, so why not spend some extra time jogging or just walking a little longer.

Just a daily 30-minute walk will help you meet the minimum recommendations for healthy physical activity. You don’t even have to do all 30 minutes at once; you can break it down to two 15 minute walks. Even playing Frisbee or fetch with your dog can help shed some extra pounds and get you back into those skinny jeans in your closet from 1980.

Prevent Osteoporosis

Walking your dog strengthens your bones and muscles and it can help prevent osteoporosis. Fragile bones can break easily, but walking your dog often before you develop osteoporosis can be a preventative measure, that is of course with a glass of milk daily.

Act as Warning Signs

Dogs can sense things that we can’t. For people with diabetes, dogs can sense when a sudden drop in glucose occurs in the body. They can be trained to alarm the owner to eat a snack before an emergency occurs.

Seizure dogs have also become quite popular. They’re trained to live and work with people with epilepsy. They can sense when their own is about to have a seizure and either alert others who are aware of the person’s condition or they will lie next to the person to prevent injury.

Dogs have also been trained to offer assistant for people with Parkinson’s disease. They can provide balance support, pick up dropped items, open/close doors, and turn lights on/off. They can also sense when someone is “freezing” and touch their foot, so they know to keep walking.

Manage ADHD

Most kids love four-legged creatures. In fact, I don’t think I've ever met a kid who didn’t like animals. Pets can help teach kids with ADHD (and any kid for that matter) how to be responsible. With all the walks and the feedings, pets help kids understand how to care for another life and keep a schedule.

Pets also need lots of play, which is a great way for a child with ADHD to work off some of the extra energy. The more playtime that goes on between your kid and your dog leads to a stronger bond. This bond will help promote positive self-esteem.

Promote Positive Communication

People with aphasia (a language disorder common in older adults) can experience depressing conditions. Often times, they have a hard time communicating with others, which can make them have lower self-esteem. Since dogs can understand a wide range of commands, people with this condition gain higher self-esteem when the dog understands them.

With all these health benefits, why would you not want a furry creature? They’re loveable and they can help you build a healthier you.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Fulk, Jack Robinson, and Don Varga

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