Your furry friend might not just be a cute companion.
Research has shown time and time again that owning a dog can reduce a person’s stress and lower their blood pressure. When your most excited superfan greets you every day, your body has no choice but to relax.
Even the act of petting less affable animals—namely, turtles and rabbits—calmed participants in a 2003 study. The authors of a literature review of 69 scientific studies explained that interacting with animals increases oxytocin, a hormone that helps humans interact socially, tolerate pain, and reduce stress levels.
There’s plenty of evidence that dogs boost oxytocin production in humans. In fact, scientists found that simply gazing into the eyes of a pet dog increased oxytocin concentrations in both the owner and the dog. That helps explain why we feel so good simply cuddling with our pups, but new research indicates that dogs do even more to promote our well-being.
Two new studies found that dog ownership was associated with higher activity levels.
Researchers from the University of East Anglia and Centre for Diet and Activity Research studied data from the EPIC Norfolk cohort study, which tracks the health of thousands of Brits. The scientists found that dog ownership led to a much more active lifestyle.
Project lead Andy Jones said, “We were amazed to find that dog walkers were on average more physically active and spent less time sitting on the coldest, wettest, and darkest days than non-dog owners were on long, sunny, and warm summer days.”
Apparently, gazing into your dog’s eyes not only increases your oxytocin levels but also convinces you to get off the couch—even when it’s raining. On average dog owners spent about 30 minutes less per day sitting.
A smaller study confirmed the positive impact of dogs on an active life. The authors tracked 43 dog owners and 43 non-dog owners and found that the dog owners walked 20 minutes more per day on average.
The authors concluded that dog ownership could be a useful tool for increasing physical activity in older adults. Even if someone didn’t want the commitment of owning a dog, volunteering at a pet shelter could motivate them to walk more regularly.
Of course, every relationship has downsides, and the human-dog partnership is no exception.
A 2017 study published in Zoonoses and Public Health found that owning a dog increased a person’s likelihood of encountering ticks. Because ticks carry disease-causing microorganisms, increased risk of contact with ticks translates to a higher chance of contracting a tick-borne disease.
Another hazard of dog ownership is the increased likelihood of falling. Boisterous dogs cause as estimated 76,437 fall injuries per year (cats, either through their nonchalance or relatively lower weight, cause just over 10,000 fall injuries).
We don’t recommend basing pet ownership decisions on health benefits or drawbacks. Still, it’s interesting to know how big of an effect pets have pets have on our well-being. From gazing at us to guilting us off the couch, dogs help improve our health. Just beware of ticks and falling.