How Can Having a Dog Boost Your Mental Health?

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Around 36.5% of American households own a dog, and if you asked these homeowners what the best thing about having a dog was, they may just find it difficult to pinpoint the exact reason. ‘Companionship’ might be a typical answer, yet it isn’t quite complete. Dogs bring much more to our lives, as studies have shown. There is a powerful reason why dog assisted therapy is so often used for a plethora of mental conditions and situations – including substance abuse recovery, eating disorder recovery, and PTSD. What do the latest findings say about the many ways that dogs can boost our mental health?

Dogs vs Depression

man holding his one-eyed puppy
Many studies have shown that spending time with a dog can improve conditions like depression, anxiety, and poor mood. The findings are unequivocal across different age groups. One 2014 study published by researchers at Georgia State University found that dog-assisted therapy was a powerful way to reduce anxiety and loneliness.

Another study by scientists at the University of British Columbia confirmed that spending time with a dog boosts student wellness – particularly in its ability to reduce stress and feelings of negativity. Holding, petting, and simply being with a dog provides strong social and emotional support for ‘everyday people’ too, says the American Psychological Association – not only those battling physical or mental health challenges.

The Link between the Physical and Mental

woman and her dog enjoying outdoor time on the beach
Dogs need a couple of long walks a day for optimal heart and joint health; this is generally true regardless of their age. When you do the right thing by your dog, you also bring benefits to your physical and mental health, since getting out and about helps you battle sedentarism – a problem that takes over five million lives a year, according to the World Health Organization. In our relentless pursuit for economic stability, many of us forget about taking care of our own wellbeing. Being kind to our pooch allows us to be more responsible for our health.

Studies have shown that physical activity wields important benefits for our mental health, since it reduces levels of stress hormone, cortisol. This hormone when allowed to remain at chronically high levels, can cause everything from heart disease to obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.

Waking Across Lush Pastures with Fido

A 2017 study carried out at the University of New South Wales found that even small amounts of exercise can prevent depression. So can being in Nature, which is why nature retreats are often recommended as a means of battling stress. A 2018 study undertaken at the University of East Anglia found that spending time outside has wide-ranging benefits, including a reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and stress. When you do walk your dog, aim to head to a beautiful green area; one that makes it easy to just ‘be’ in the present moment, enjoying time with your dog. Make sure he stays active and energetic, throwing a frisbee or playing fetch, and providing him with plenty of water.

If you are weighing up the benefits of having a dog, don’t forget to include the mental ones. Dogs help you keep stress levels down and encourage you to be more active, which is something human beings sorely need – bearing in mind how many of us lead a sedentary lifestyle. Try to enjoy walks in green areas, so you can battle stress while losing yourself in the beauty of the moment with a friend like no other – your dog.

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About Author

Devoted pet owner and now, devoted pet editor, Judi worked in traditional offices, keeping the books and the day-to-day operations organized. Taking her dog to work every day for over a decade never seemed odd. Neither did having an office cat. She knows what it's like to train a new puppy and she's experienced the heartache of losing beloved companions. Retired, she currently lives with her spoiled dog and four chickens (who are, interestingly enough, also spoiled).

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