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Is a dog your healths best friend?

Is a dog your healths best friend?

What’s furry, friendly and keeps you fit? A dog! Whether you’re an animal lover or not, committing to owning a dog also commits you to keeping active every day. Here are some facts to make you paws for thought...

Physical health benefits

Whether it’s a freezing winter morning or raining cats and dogs, you have to walk your faithful friend every day. The benefits of daily exercise are well-known, but busy schedules can mean it’s easy to cop out if you don’t have to exercise. According to one study, dog owners walk their pets for 24 minutes twice a day, plus several longer walks during the week. In total, this comes to over 8 hours each week of walking. In fact, pet owners are thought to walk the equivalent of 283 marathons in the course of their pet’s lifetime.

All that physical activity mounts up to well over the recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. Many dog owners find the weight starts to fall off without even trying.  Dog walking can burn off around 200 calories an hour so that’s an extra 1600 calories each week. Combine this with a couple of gym visits and you’re laughing.

So what physical benefits can you expect from regular dog walking?

  • Heart health. Much research has shown that owning a dog will greatly improve your heart’s health. The American Heart Association (AHA) last year reviewed years of studies from around the world and concluded that pet ownership is linked with a lowered risk of heart disease. Even if you already have heart disease, owning a dog makes you four times more likely to be alive a year later.   
  • Lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Studies show the simple act of being around a dog lowers blood pressure. In 2001, 48 people were asked to adopt a dog or cat. Those who did had significantly lower blood pressure six months later.
  • Less susceptible to minor and serious health problems. According to the AHA, dog owners are more resilient against the physical effects of stress, which then reduces the likelihood of diseases.  
  • Early warning sign of cancer. An unexpected benefit of owning a dog may be helping you to detect cancer earlier. Dogs’ amazing ability to smell enables them to predict cancer with up to 88% specificity by nuzzling up to body spots. Canine scent detection is now an officially recognized screening method.

If you think simply walking isn’t real exercise, take a look at our previous articles on it. If you really need to move faster you can jog or run, and many dogs will relish the chance to speed up alongside you.  You could even try canicross, (like cross-country running with dogs), Flyball and agility courses.

Companionship

The most obvious benefits of dog ownership are the fitness reaped from walking it. But many studies show that simply the companionship of a dog is enough to improve our health. Dogs play a vital therapeutic role in hospitals and prisons. Another UK study showed that the company of dogs helped children suffering from chronic illness endure any painful treatment.

The human-dog bond goes back more than 100,000 years. The dog has worked with us, played with us, guarded our home and earned our trust. In many cases, a dog offers unconditional love and support which we can’t always find elsewhere. The human need to love and nurture is crucial to our health and well-being and dogs give us endless opportunities to do this.

A walk with a dog also makes walking itself much more appealing. You are more aware of nature, even if it’s just watching out for what your dog rolls in, and you get a chance to notice the trees and birds. You feel like your walk has meaning, and you stride purposefully on without any guilt that you should be doing something else.

Mental health benefits

  • Relief from stress and depression. Walking outdoors is one of the best ways to feel more alive and leave stressful situations behind for a while. Studies also show owning a dog reduces feelings of loneliness and occurrence of depression.
  • Self-care. People tend to take better care of themselves when they have a pet. It gives many older people who have no one to look after any more the feeling of being ‘needed’ again and the motivation to live longer. Dog walking also provides a reassuring routine to daily life.
  • Social contact. Many people agree that owning a dog means they meet more new people. Lonely people are also more motivated to go out and be social if they have a dog with them. Striking up conversations with strangers can be mentally liberating, confidence boosting and help lift any clouds of gloom. If you are single, it could be highly advantageous!

Getting a dog seems to be one of the best health deals you will ever do. A few muddy walks and you will a new leash of life!

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