Dogs have long been referred to as man’s best friend, but new research is showing that in addition to the companionship a dog traditionally offers, having a pet might be keeping you and your family healthy too. So here are five great reasons to love the dog you have, or to go and visit a shelter this weekend!
1. Germ Sharing
My articles over the last month have focused on some of the exciting new research being done on our human interaction with the germs in our environment. The headline finding from this research is that more than 99% of microbes are mutually beneficial to humans, and the health benefits of having a rich "microbiome" on your skin and throughout your digestive system are immense.
Dogs then have a key role to play, as they are a very efficient delivery system for bringing microbes from the outside world into the inside. With Americans spending more than 90% of time indoors, this is a vitally important role. Love your dirty dog!
2. Allergy Reduction
In 2002, a significant study came out showing that children who grew up with a pet in their house actually had lower levels of pediatric allergies. At the time, this was counterintuitive to allergists, who had been trying to keep kids away from common allergens. However, as the new microbial research mentioned above validates, the presence of microbes early in life teaches the body not to react to harmless substances like dust and food.
Dogs can be powerful motivators to get people moving. Not only are dog owners more likely to take regular walks, but new research shows that dog walkers are more active overall than people who don’t have dogs.
Exercise of any variety is such a powerful tool for health, as it improves mood, energy, restful sleep and heart disease. Great side benefits to having a pooch around!
4. Stress Reduction
There's something incredibly comforting about coming home after a long day at work and being greeted with wet, slobbery dog kisses. For many people, interacting with a pet is the ultimate antidote to a stressful day. In fact, in one study, when people were presented with stressful tasks in four different situations — alone, with their spouse, with their pet, or with both their spouse and their pet — they experienced the lowest stress response and the quickest recovery in the situation where they were only with their pet.
Indeed, multiple studies indicate that pets are powerful forms of stress relief, lowering not only blood pressure but also harmful stress hormones like cortisol, which is associated with depression and anxiety, and elevating beneficial ones like oxytocin, which is linked to happiness and relaxation. Some people even experienced increased output of endorphins and dopamine after just five minutes with an animal.
5. Being Present
One of my favorite MindBodyGreen articles of last year described how having a (dying) pet really encouraged being fully present, which is important for everyone, but especially in the context of a family, where communication and attention are crucially important. If having a pet can foster those types of behaviors, you can see why a family dog is such a staple of modern American living!