Okay, it probably isn’t that simple. After all, dog ownership isn’t for everyone. However, if you have been on the fence about whether or not to adopt a dog (more on that here), this article may push you over the edge.
Turns out, dog ownership has significant benefits to heart health.
1. Lowers Cardiovascular Risk Factors: Blood Pressure and Heart Rate
Several studies have shown that dogs can help lower both heart rate and blood pressure, two critical indicators of heart health. This effect has been documented in two ways.
First, dog owners in general have lower blood pressure and heart rates than their non-dog owning counterparts. This effect may be in part to not only a direct positive effect on these indicators, but also other benefits of spending time with dogs that we will explore in this article (such as stress relief and higher activity levels). These benefits may translate into a cumulative effect over time as well.
Second, you don’t even have to own a dog to receive these particular heart health benefits. Studies have shown that across age groups and genders, petting or spending time with dogs lowers blood pressure and heart rate.
So, if adopting a dog just isn’t the right choice for you right now, consider how you might incorporate time with other people’s dogs to get some of this heart-healthy benefit:
- Volunteer to spend time with dogs at a local shelter
- Ask your neighbor if you can take their dog for a walk
- Offer to pet-sit a friend’s dog while they enjoy a vacation
- Visit the dog park and enjoy some time meeting other people’s pets
2. Stress Relief: Good for Heart Health
One of the most important lifestyle changes that you can make to reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke is to gain tools for better stress management. In these busy modern times, learning to take a break from the hustle-bustle for a little “me time” is just a part of any good wellness plan.
Dogs may actually boost our relaxation efforts by lowering our stress at the hormonal level. Turns out that several studies have demonstrated that even spending time with a dog who isn’t yours can lower your levels of cortisol and boost your levels of oxytocin.
If you are not familiar with these compounds, they are part of the body’s stress signaling system and play a vital role in heart health. High levels of cortisol, the so-called stress hormone, are associated with cardiovascular risk. Likewise, the soothing and calming hormone oxytocin is associated with better cardiovascular health, feelings of wellbeing, and lower stress levels.
It may surprise you to learn that some researchers have even tested these same hormones in dogs before and after they spent time interacting with humans. What they found was that the same benefits at the hormonal level were present for the canine side of the equation as well.
Dogs and humans have been coexisting as partners for as long as 28,500 years according to a recent study. In fact, it is likely that dogs were actually the first animals to be domesticated by humans as early as the Ice Age.
This longstanding partnership with dogs has no doubt left an imprint on both humans and canines – a kind of coevolution has taken place. As humans experience the same rise in oxytocin and drop in cortisol when they have positive interactions with other people, apparently the body also recognizes and responds favorably to the human-dog bond.
3. Get More Active: How Fido Can Help You Stay Fit
Finally, dogs help us to get more active. That is, several studies show that dog owners as a group get more exercise than people who don’t – and the difference may be significant enough to boost the heart health of pet owners.
A recent longitudinal study, for example, found a significant difference in the amount of time dog owners spent walking, with an average 2,760 more steps per day for the Fido owning crowd.
It should make sense. While it can be difficult to sometimes motivate ourselves to get off the couch and get to the gym, it is hard to resist those big puppy dog eyes at the door telling you it is time for a walk.
If the motivation factor is important to you, then you may even be able to get more activity in your schedule with the help of a dog. If you are looking for a way to get moving and are struggling with the motivation factor, then a dog might be an excellent way to burn more calories while just having more fun.
Just think about all the fun things you can do with a dog that you might be less likely to do on your own:
- Enjoy a daily jog
- Head over to the lake for a swim
- Hit the trails and enjoy some hiking
- Join a dog sport such as agility or flyball
- Pack up your car, load up your dog, and take a camping trip to enjoy the great outdoors!
Not sure if a dog will fit into your lifestyle? Adopting a dog just to get the heart healthy benefits of dog ownership is probably not a good idea. However, if you do have some room for a dog in your life, maybe now is the time to do something about it!
Susan is a professional writer with a Masters in Science Studies from Virginia State University, she has also worked as a professional dog trainer for over ten years.