Mayo Clinic Q&A: Are Dogs Really Good for Your Health? – Publishing a newsletter

DEAR MAYO CLINIC: We are thinking of getting a dog. We know they’re great companions, but how are they good for your health?

ANSWER: People with dogs know the benefits of pet ownership. The unconditional love, trust and loyalty shown by your canine companions, combined with their unbridled enthusiasm upon your return home each day, is difficult to describe in words.

There’s another plus to having a dog by your side: it improves your overall physical and mental health. This is how.

A notable advantage is that dogs force you to get up and move. One study found that dog owners were more likely to report regular physical activity than people who did not own dogs.

Activities associated with dog ownership, such as feeding, grooming, playing and letting them outside, increase physical activity levels. Physical activity improves blood flow, induces muscle contraction and reduces joint stiffness.

Dogs also need regular exercise and will welcome it with smiles and wagging tails. In addition to the typical walk, you can work hiking and running into your outings with your dog depending on his breed. People who regularly perform aerobic exercise have improved blood pressure, reduced blood sugar levels, better weight control, and a reduced risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Other studies show that exercise can improve depression and anxiety.

Over time, exercise will help strengthen your muscles, bones and joints. You may notice that your usual route feels easier, so you decide to stay out longer or hike that extra hill.

When choosing a new puppy or dog, carefully consider their energy levels and exercise requirements. It’s best when your lifestyle and activity levels match your canine friend’s.

Exercise burns calories and helps you maintain a healthy weight. In one study, adults who regularly walked their dogs were less likely to be obese than their non-dog-owning neighbors. The same study found that dog owners were also more likely to report a healthy diet and ideal blood sugar levels, which improved overall heart health. Walking for 30 minutes a day will reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, osteoporosis, colon and breast cancer and type 2 diabetes.

This 30 minutes of light to moderate dog walking can also help you achieve deeper and more restful sleep. Health professionals recommend that adults aim for 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week.

One way to walk your new dog is to start a 12-week walking schedule.

Dogs encourage social bonding

Owning a dog is associated with better mental health and lower perceptions of social isolation, which may reduce the risk of heart attack and cognitive problems. Social isolation is a strong risk factor for poorer health outcomes and premature death. Dog owners interact more with other people, such as other dog owners and people they meet on walks, and are less likely to experience depression.

Consider training your dog in pet therapy to gain the dual benefits of bonding and volunteering.

For people who work from home, there are four important ways pets can help your mental health:

  • Reducing work-related stress.
    Two out of three employees say their work stresses them out, and 40% say their work interferes with their health. Pets in the workplace, even at home, reduce stress and increase employee satisfaction.
  • Anxiety management.With the increase in working from home, more people are struggling with mental health. Pets can provide company and support once found in the office.
  • Increase in activity.
    Dogs give you an excuse to get outside, get some fresh air, and get some exercise.
  • Fighting loneliness.
    Connecting with pets helps people feel less alone. Owners can touch, see, hear or talk to their companion animals, which brings happiness, connection and physical contact.

There is also research showing the benefits of animal-assisted therapy during rehabilitation for conditions of the nervous system, such as strokes, seizures, brain injuries and infections. Dogs can be a valuable part of cardiac rehabilitation, occupational therapy and physical therapy programs. They can provide social support, and trained dogs can even participate in your rehabilitation or therapy sessions.

Big decision, winning decision

Bringing a dog into your home is an important decision and you should carefully consider the responsibilities. However, you should also consider the many wonderful health and emotional benefits that come from owning a dog.

The bottom line is that a dog can help you be more active and socially connected while improving your overall health. It’s a win-win — and fun fun. — Tahir Tak, MD, Cardiovascular Medicine, Mayo Clinic Health System, La Crosse, Onalaska and Prairie du Chien, WI; Heidi Graft, exercise physiologist, La Crosse, Wisconsin.

The Mayo Clinic Q&A is an educational resource and is not a substitute for regular medical care. Email a question to MayoClinicQ&[email protected]. For more information visit

www.mayoclinic.org

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