5 ways owning a dog can improve your health and longevity

We all know dogs are man’s (or should we say a person’s) best friend, but it turns out they’re more than just that—owning one can actually be good for your health. Here are some great reasons why having a furry friend like a canine could help prolong your life.

They make you feel happier

This one may be a bit obvious, but science backs it up: interacting with your dog can raise your serotonin and dopamine levels; neurotransmitters that contribute to feelings of well-being and contentment. Pets require structure and place a sense of responsibility on their owners, which in turn promotes positive mental health. They also offer companionship and help to fight feelings of loneliness. In fact, studies have shown that even brief regular visits with dogs can make people feel less lonely.

They make you more active

running with dog
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Having to walk your dog each day forces you to be more physically active (it also means you have to go outside, where you can get your daily dose of vitamin D). According to Harvard Health Publications, numerous studies link dog ownership to weight loss: one year-long study discovered that walking an overweight dog helped both the animal and its owner lose weight; another found that participants who walked a dog for up to 20 minutes, five days a week lost an average of 14.4 pounds a year—without changing their diets. In short, dogs make excellent exercise companions.

They can build and improve immunity

Studies have shown that having a pet like a dog or a cat in the house can help boost our immune systems. A Wilkes University study found that people who stroked a dog for 18 minutes had a significant increase in an antibody against invading germs, also known as secretory immunoglobulin A (IgA). Another study claims people with pets make fewer visits to the doctor, particularly for non-serious medical conditions. A third study at Purdue University says babies with dogs or cats in their homes have fewer colds and ear infections in their first year than those who don’t, and having these pets in the house may even lead to infants being less likely to have asthma and/or develop common allergies.

They can reduce stress and anxiety

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Researchers in Sweden have found that showing affection toward your dog in the form of kissing or petting increases levels of oxytocin, also known as the “love” or “bonding” hormone. Oxytocin can reduce blood pressure and feelings of anxiety. In addition to increasing levels of oxytocin, cuddling or playing with your dog can also decrease production of the stress hormone cortisol.

They can reduce your risk of heart disease

Perhaps as a result of the points mentioned above, studies indicate that owning a dog makes you much less likely to have a heart attack—and, according to research done in Sweden, even if you do, you are three to four times more likely to survive it as a dog owner. A study published in the Medical Journal of Australia found that pet owners generally have lower blood pressure, triglycerides, and cholesterol levels compared to those who don’t have pets. Who would’ve thought that in addition to melting your heart, Fido is keeping it healthy, too?

By Christina Cheung