Dogs and how they benefit our mental health and wellbeing- Holly Snowdon
‘No matter how little money and how few possessions you own, having a dog makes you rich’ – Louis Sabin
There’s a reason why dogs are often referred to as ‘man’s best friend’.
I’m confident in my assumption that NOBODY will greet you with as much enthusiasm and joy as your dog when you walk through the door each day. A dog will go out of his or her way to express their love for you, no matter what mood you’re in, what you look like, time of day etc. There is no judgement or hidden agenda when it comes to our canine friends, which is why they are arguably the most loyal companions out of all mammals on the planet.
But according to research, dogs can be so much more than just a loving pal. There has been a wealth of evidence suggesting that ownership (or even being frequently in the presence of a dog), has both physical, psychological and social benefits.
So why are our fluffy pals so beneficial to our mental health and wellbeing?
1. They get you outdoors
In recent years it has been more widely recognised that being outdoors has a demonstrated destressing effect on the body. A number of studies have proven that being amongst nature can reduce inflammation, reduce levels of cortisol, eliminate fatigue and even improve short term memory!
As dogs require daily walks, they give dog owners the perfect excuse to seek out green spaces and be at one with nature. A real treat for both you and the dog!
Walking is also an awesome way to practice mindfulness (especially if you leave your phone at home!). By tuning into your surroundings whilst walking, including what you can smell, see and hear, you’re automatically being more mindful which is scientifically proven to boost our mental state/health.
2. They relieve stress and anxiety
With the number of people experiencing periods of stress and anxiety on the rise, anything that can help reduce this would be highly beneficial. Luckily, dogs might be just the answer!
Research indicates that playing with a dog (or cat!), can help elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax. The feel-good chemical, oxytocin is also released, thus helping to relieve feelings of stress and anxiety. Even stroking a dog is said to help reduce stress.
A number of universities have cottoned on to this calming effect by bringing in dogs and cats in for the students to cuddle around exam time to help reduce stress! This has also been used in elderly care homes where people have dementia to help soothe them.
3. They keep you fit and active
Exercise releases happy hormones called endorphins, which make us happy! And as all dogs need at least one walk a day, exercise is therefore a non-negotiable! Walking is one of the best, cheapest and arguably most pleasant forms of exercise and what better way to do this than with your 4 legged pal!
4. Dogs are a fantastic way to meet people and make new friends
In my experience as a dog owner, there are no group of people more friendly than other dog owners. Whilst walking the dog, if you bump into another dog walker, it is almost guaranteed that they will stop for a chat. Unfriendly dog owners are very rare! Naturally the conversation will centre around the dog initially, but if you both have time to stop for long enough, who knows where the conversation could lead to – you may have just met a lifelong friend!
5. Can prevent feelings of loneliness
Loneliness is actually more damaging to us than you might think. We are supposed to be part of a pack.
So whilst conversation with a dog won’t be as intellectually stimulating or deep as one with a human, there is no doubt that they are great company. Having a dog can help prevent people from feeling lonely and isolated, thus reducing the likelihood of experiencing depression. They give our lives a sense of purpose and meaning!
6. The help you feel safe
They are also great to have around from a personal safety point of view! Dogs will almost always bark when danger is approaching (warning you that a stranger is approaching the house etc), and in the event of an attack, there’s a very high chance they will do everything they can to defend you.
Whilst having a dog is out of the question for many people (due to working full time etc), with services such as ‘borrow my doggy’, an app which enables you to borrow dogs in your local area, everyone has the opportunity to reap the benefits of some canine company!
Not a dog fan? No worries! While dog owners often experience the greatest health benefits, cats, guinea pigs, rabbits can have similar positive effects. Even watching fish in a home aquarium can help to reduce muscle tension ever lower pulse rate!
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