Within months of getting married, Eric and I committed what we called “the great puppy caper.” Long before Google Maps, we navigated via a paper map to the end of a long driveway in a small town in Connecticut and left 20 minutes later cradling eight pounds of fluff who, over time, grew into 40 pounds of pure love. His name was Kibo. He taught himself to lifeguard our kids when they were swimming, became a working therapy dog at two, and understood more than 100 words. He accompanied us everywhere, loved hotels and never needed a leash. He was the dog of dogs.
There is no question that Kibo improved our lives in a myriad of ways, but what about our health? Yep, he was there for that, too. In fact, research says having a dog can result in the following health benefits:
More physical activity: If you have a dog, you’ll likely have to walk that dog each day, perhaps multiple times a day. More walking and more physical activity comes with many benefits including improved cardiovascular health, help maintaining a healthy weight, and a boost to your overall fitness.
Reduced stress and anxiety, and increased happiness and wellbeing: Ask any one of the thousands of anxious travelers who fly with their dogs by their sides if hanging with a canine companion reduces stress and anxiety. How? Research has shown that petting or playing with a dog can increase levels of the happy hormone oxytocin and decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol. And spending time with dogs has also been shown to increase levels of serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters associated with feelings of happiness and well-being.
Improved mental health: Every dog person has been there. You walk into the house after a difficult day—one of those days where it feels like the world is conspiring against you—only to be greeted by an outpouring of love. Or those moments when you feel alone in the world and your beloved pooch wanders over to put her head in your lap. Research shows that dogs provide companionship and unconditional love, both of which can help alleviate feelings of loneliness and depression. And, caring for a dog can provide a sense of purpose and responsibility, boosting overall well-being. We’re pretty sure that all that extra walking doesn’t hurt either.
Enhanced social connections: So here’s a thing that young, single men did in New York City, at least when I was young and living in New York City. Guys would go to the local dog pound to walk the dogs in the park. This was a win for the dogs, who had been spending way too much time caged up while they awaited finding their forever home, but it was also a win for the guys because walking a cute pup in the park was a tried and true way to meet someone. Yep, dogs can be social catalysts, making it easier for their owners to connect with other people. Taking a dog for a walk or visiting dog parks often leads to interactions with other dog owners, promoting socialization and potentially expanding social circles, as dogs provide the perfect conversation opener.
- Stronger Heart: Dog ownership has been linked to improved cardiovascular health. Studies have shown that dog owners often have lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, and a reduced risk of heart disease. The physical activity involved in dog ownership, as well as the emotional support they provide, contribute to better heart health, for both you and your furry canine.
We lost our beloved Kibo after less than a decade of love and we still miss him terribly. He taught us so much about love and companionship, and we’ve been a dog family ever since. In fact, as I write this, Moose is laying by my feet, waiting for me to finish so we can take our morning walk. Okay, Moose, let’s go.
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