We’ve all experienced that warm, happy feeling when hanging out with a dog. But can pet ownership directly improve our health?
A Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School explores just that. In Get Healthy, Get a Dog, medical editors Elizabeth Pegg Frates, M.D. and Lisa Moses, V.M.D. reveal the many ways that dogs can improve the lives of humans.
Although a direct causal relationship isn’t proven, a growing body of evidence suggests that having a dog can decrease cardiovascular disease, help people handle stress, and reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness.
From the report:
There are many reasons why dogs are called humans’ best friends: not only do they offer unparalleled companionship, but a growing body of research shows they also boost human health. Owning a dog can prompt you to be more physically active — have leash, will walk. It can also:
- help you be calmer, more mindful, and more present in your life
- make kids more active, secure, and responsible
- improve the lives of older individuals
- make you more social and less isolated
Just petting a dog can reduce the petter’s blood pressure and heart rate (while having a positive effect on the dog as well).
The report also helps readers determine how much exercise your dog may need, points out resources for determining best dog breeds for certain owners and lifestyles, and offers suggestions on volunteering at and adopting from animal shelters.
But while the health and emotional benefits can be good for what ails you, it’s important not to adopt a dog for the primary purpose of decreasing heart disease. Weigh all factors to make sure your lifestyle fits pet ownership. After all, a sedentary and overweight pet owner can lead to a sedentary and overweight dog.