More Ways Your Dog Can Keep You Healthy

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Being that this past weekend was Father’s Day, it got me thinking about my late father, whom I’m quite sure I will never stop missing. My father liked to say there were two kinds of people in the world: dog lovers and non-dog lovers. You can guess the ones he preferred to hang out with.

Though his view might have been a little black and white, the man never met a dog he didn’t like. And so, you can probably guess what else that meant: our house was never without a dog (or two). Are you a stray and need a place to crash? Come in! We’ll clean you up and feed you and most likely keep you if no one comes looking. That’s part of what made our house a home.

But I’ve also come to learn that owning a dog goes way beyond making a house more of a home. Sure, they’re cute and cuddly and are wonderful companions; they can even stand in for a friend (or sometimes are preferable to a real live one!).

The latest study on that very special dog/person relationship, published in Science, finds that the same chemical that is released shortly after childbirth, oxytocin (also known by such names as “the bliss hormone” and “the cuddle hormone”), is released when the eyes of a dog and human lock.

Oxytocin facilitates both childbirth and breastfeeding. It’s undeniably powerful stuff, also known to contribute to relaxation, trust and psychological stability. There’s a lot going on when you gaze into those irresistible puppy dog eyes.

And what’s even more interesting is that the hormone is not only secreted by humans, but by the dogs as well. I guess that fact shouldn’t be all that surprising, considering the fact that University of Chicago researchers found that several groups of genes in humans and dogs have been evolving in parallel for thousands of years, due most likely to their shared environment, they say. Those genes include those related to neurological processes, disease, diet and digestion.

First question:

Do you insist on taking the best care of your dog as you possibly can? You know, buying only organic dog food, the best dog insurance, and BPA free chew toys?

Yes? Good…now onto the next question: Do you often find yourself unmotivated to exercise?

Your pup may not be the shining beacon of all that is a healthy lifestyle: he eats leftovers, spends a majority of his day on the couch, and seems to enjoy all of the TV that you do. But owning a dog has a surprising number of health benefits.

Well, your dog might be just the partner you need to start a new fitness regimen and stick to it. Think of your dog as your personal trainer, with a resting heart rate in the 40 BPM range (ours is on average 70 BPM) and the ability to drink over a gallon of water a day.

Need more convincing? He can help you maximize your workout and burn at least 200–250 calories per hour on a walk alone (compared to 100 calories on your own) Here are the five ways dogs can keep you fit—and five reasons you should let your dog take care of you for a change.

If you have been on the fence about getting your own dog, consider the facts:

1.Exercise

This is probably the most obvious, but having a dog is a great way to get yourself outside and your legs moving. According to a study by the University of Victoria in Canada, dog owners are more likely to spend time in mild and moderate physical activities. Dog owners walked an average of 300 minutes per week compared to non-dog owners, who only averaged 168 minutes a week.

2.Dogs Always Love Going Outside

Even if you don’t have a lot of time on your hands to spend hours at the gym each day, a quick walk in the morning or after work will be a great way to get into good habits of health. Plus, did you know your gait is more natural when you walk and run outside versus a treadmill? This can help prevent injuries and fatigue. Even 20-30 minutes of walking each day is a great start to a healthier lifestyle. And besides, a dog will give you the biggest guilt trip if you don’t treat him to some outdoors time every day.

3. They boost your mood

It’s not rocket science: playing with a puppy is one of the most fun things in the world. It’s an instant mood booster, and there is science to back it up. According to a study by the University of Missouri-Columbia, even a few minutes of petting a pup releases a myriad of feel-good hormones into system, including serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin. Talk about a natural anti-depressant…

4.Dogs Will Wake You Up Early

For those of us who want to start getting up earlier to get some exercise in before work, a playful pup will have you out of bed at the break of dawn. Dogs are creatures of habit, so they will be at your bedside nudging you unfailingly for your 6 AM run.

5.They keep your blood pressure down

Who knew that simply owning a dog could correspond with having lower blood pressure? Recent research on human-dog interactions showed that talking to and petting a dog are accompanied by lower blood pressure. Touch seemed to be vital in this correlation, so be sure to pet your dog a lot.

6.Dogs Will Always Have More Energy Than You

One of the best parts about having a pet is that it will always want to play. How many times have you had a gym or running partner flake on you only minutes before you were planning on exercising? A dog will never cancel, making it more difficult for you to justify skipping the exercise. Think of them as the partner who is better than you— the one you strive to beat.

7.Dogs build up your immune system

When you are vacuuming up a fresh batch of dirt your pup dragged in, you may not be too thankful. However, your dog dragging in bacteria and their own dandruff may benefit your immune system.

A study followed over 400 children from infancy over a year and found that those who were around dogs were less likely to get sick. We aren’t suggesting you roll around in your dog’s filth like he rolls around in your dirty laundry, but you get the picture.

8.They can sense a drop in blood sugar

You know how your dog can smell your steak dinner before you even decide to start cooking it? Turns out their sense of smell doesn’t just help them detect dinner, it can detect a drop in blood sugar. Chemical changes in your body may make you smell different, and your pup can detect that. While most dogs will be able to detect this change, there are actually programs that train dogs to do just that, which could be a life-changing moment for someone with diabetes.

9.Dogs Are a Great Way to Meet Like-Minded People

The gym can be an intimidating place, especially for people just beginning their fitness adventure. A lot of people at the gym prefer to keep to themselves, adding to the intimidation factor and making it difficult to make friends. There are countless pet lovers across the nation, and even more fitness-minded pet lovers. Research local dog meet ups or play fetch at the local dog park. Puppies sniffing and nipping at each other are the perfect excuse to socialize with other owners, and who knows, you might just find a human fitness partner, too!

10.They can also sniff out cancer

While this is not something every dog can do naturally, scientists are training dogs to sniff out isolated cancer chemicals. Researchers hope to manufacture nanotechnology sensors that are capable of recognizing bits of cancerous tissue that are a mere 1/100,00th the thickness of a sheet of paper.

11.Dogs Are Protective

Especially for women, dogs double as a security guard. Not only can they keep you company, but they can also deter unwanted strangers from approaching you. This is a great way to keep up a good running habit during the winter months when it is dark outside.

12. They keep you social

Being in top fit form is no use if you are a miserable social recluse. The British Medical Journal has concluded dogs act as “social catalysts.” Owning a dog can help you get out more, approach others with ease, and overall reduce isolation.

Then there are the undeniable health benefits of owning a dog (and this goes for pets in general, but for the purposes of this story, I’ll keep it to dogs). Can you be healthy without owning a dog? Certainly. But as a nod to my late dog-loving father, I’ll bet all the people he chose to hang around with were pretty healthy.

  • Dog owners are less likely to get heart disease. The main reason: Dog owners generally walk more than non-dog owners. Even if you already have heart problems (if you’ve suffered a heart attack or have a serious abnormal heart rhythm), owning a dog has been shown to help you live longer than not owning a pet, according to studies. And one study found that owning a dog decreased fourfold the mortality rate connect with having another cardiovascular problem.
  • Dog owners have lower blood pressure than non-dog owners.  Research shows that talking to and petting a dog can have a positive impact on your blood pressure more so than human conversation.
  • Simply petting a dog can lower levels of stress hormones. Just 15 minutes spent stroking your dog releases the feel-good hormones serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin. It also lowers the stress hormone cortisol, says a University of Missouri-Columbia study. All this adds up to the fact that petting a dog is a great depression-buster.
  • Dogs can reduce your likelihood of obesity. That’s due to the increased physical activity of many dog owners. One study found that dog owners walked an average of 300 minutes per week as opposed to non-dog owners (who walked an average of 168 minutes per week). Another study in the American Journal of Public Health found that children with dogs spent more time engaging in physical activity than children without dogs.
  • Dogs can detect cancer. Pretty amazing, but it’s been documented more than once. One case study in The Lancet reported on a person whose dog relentlessly sniffed at a mole on her leg and even attempted to bite it off. When she had her mole checked, it was discovered to be a malignant melanoma.

Ever since my dog Chloe died a little over three years ago, my life has felt rather empty. Let me elaborate on that. I miss her terribly every day (with a similar ache I feel from missing my dad), and I constantly question my status as a non-dog owner, having had one all my life until now.

Yet, the rather new found freedom of being an empty nester makes it difficult to make the commitment to owning and raising another dog. Part of it’s onerous, yet part of it is what I know.

I’m torn, I really am. Maybe you’re a dog owner who would never, ever be without a furry friend. Or perhaps you, like me and so many others, once owned a dog but are now hesitant to start all over with a new one.

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