Dogs are America’s new children.
Before you dismiss this statement as an exaggeration, consider this: America’s birth rate is now at a 32-year low. Dog ownership is at an all-time high.
There are now more dogs in the U.S. (90 million) than children (74 million).
One of the reasons we love dogs so much is that they make us feel better. And researchers have found they improve our health in important ways…
- Stress reduction. A study published in the Journal of Public Health followed 1,023 people. Scientists looked at subjects’ dog ownership, mental health, and amount of weekly time spent dog walking.
The researchers found that owning and being active with a dog was correlated with lower stress.
Dr. Hayley Christian was the lead author. He said dogs not only reduce anxiety but provide social connections. Walking a dog leads to “networking with people in the community.”
- Heart health. Harvard Medical School points to studies showing dog owners have lower blood pressure. That’s partly because dog owners get exercise by walking their dog. But research also shows your blood pressure goes down when you simply pet a dog.
Dog ownership is also linked to lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
- Longevity. Researchers at Sweden’s Uppsala University followed the health records of 3.4 million people for 12 years. Dog owners had a lower risk of death from heart disease and other causes. This protective effect was particularly pronounced for people who lived alone. Normally, people who live by themselves are at higher risk of early death. But those who had a dog had a 33% reduced mortality risk. They also had an 11% lower risk of heart disease.
- Depression relief. Studies show dogs help brighten the mood of elderly people. They have similarly been used to help veterans with post-traumatic stress.
- Immune system strength. Research from the University of Arizona shows that canines are like four-legged probiotics. They boost our immunity by exposing us to beneficial bacteria we would otherwise not come in contact with. Scientists believe the “overly hygienic” state most people live in causes our immune systems to overreact to allergens. The result is allergies, autoimmune diseases, and an immune system that can’t defeat serious infections. Dogs can help counter that phenomenon.
Most of us get dogs for companionship and for the unconditional love they offer. But man’s best friend can also be one of the best things for your health.
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