Is a dog your healths best friend?

Is a dog your healths best friend?

What’s furry, friendly and keeps you fit? A dog! Whether you’re an animal lover or not, committing to owning a dog also commits you to keeping active every day. Here are some facts to make you paws for thought...

Physical health benefits

Whether it’s a freezing winter morning or raining cats and dogs, you have to walk your faithful friend every day. The benefits of daily exercise are well-known, but busy schedules can mean it’s easy to cop out if you don’t have to exercise. According to one study, dog owners walk their pets for 24 minutes twice a day, plus several longer walks during the week. In total, this comes to over 8 hours each week of walking. In fact, pet owners are thought to walk the equivalent of 283 marathons in the course of their pet’s lifetime.

All that physical activity mounts up to well over the recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. Many dog owners find the weight starts to fall off without even trying.  Dog walking can burn off around 200 calories an hour so that’s an extra 1600 calories each week. Combine this with a couple of gym visits and you’re laughing.

So what physical benefits can you expect from regular dog walking?

  • Heart health. Much research has shown that owning a dog will greatly improve your heart’s health. The American Heart Association (AHA) last year reviewed years of studies from around the world and concluded that pet ownership is linked with a lowered risk of heart disease. Even if you already have heart disease, owning a dog makes you four times more likely to be alive a year later.   
  • Lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Studies show the simple act of being around a dog lowers blood pressure. In 2001, 48 people were asked to adopt a dog or cat. Those who did had significantly lower blood pressure six months later.
  • Less susceptible to minor and serious health problems. According to the AHA, dog owners are more resilient against the physical effects of stress, which then reduces the likelihood of diseases.  
  • Early warning sign of cancer. An unexpected benefit of owning a dog may be helping you to detect cancer earlier. Dogs’ amazing ability to smell enables them to predict cancer with up to 88% specificity by nuzzling up to body spots. Canine scent detection is now an officially recognized screening method.

If you think simply walking isn’t real exercise, take a look at our previous articles on it. If you really need to move faster you can jog or run, and many dogs will relish the chance to speed up alongside you.  You could even try canicross, (like cross-country running with dogs), Flyball and agility courses.

Companionship

The most obvious benefits of dog ownership are the fitness reaped from walking it. But many studies show that simply the companionship of a dog is enough to improve our health. Dogs play a vital therapeutic role in hospitals and prisons. Another UK study showed that the company of dogs helped children suffering from chronic illness endure any painful treatment.

The human-dog bond goes back more than 100,000 years. The dog has worked with us, played with us, guarded our home and earned our trust. In many cases, a dog offers unconditional love and support which we can’t always find elsewhere. The human need to love and nurture is crucial to our health and well-being and dogs give us endless opportunities to do this.

A walk with a dog also makes walking itself much more appealing. You are more aware of nature, even if it’s just watching out for what your dog rolls in, and you get a chance to notice the trees and birds. You feel like your walk has meaning, and you stride purposefully on without any guilt that you should be doing something else.

Mental health benefits

  • Relief from stress and depression. Walking outdoors is one of the best ways to feel more alive and leave stressful situations behind for a while. Studies also show owning a dog reduces feelings of loneliness and occurrence of depression.
  • Self-care. People tend to take better care of themselves when they have a pet. It gives many older people who have no one to look after any more the feeling of being ‘needed’ again and the motivation to live longer. Dog walking also provides a reassuring routine to daily life.
  • Social contact. Many people agree that owning a dog means they meet more new people. Lonely people are also more motivated to go out and be social if they have a dog with them. Striking up conversations with strangers can be mentally liberating, confidence boosting and help lift any clouds of gloom. If you are single, it could be highly advantageous!

Getting a dog seems to be one of the best health deals you will ever do. A few muddy walks and you will a new leash of life!

Comments

Sarah L.
4 February 2014

Sarah L.

not a greyhound - completely untrainable and never get any sense! I dog-sat a Jack Russell once, great character but too fond of his food and couldn't go more than twice round a football-field sized recreation ground without collapsing for the rest of the day. Perhaps a labrador, they never turn down the chance of a walk.

Callum M.
29 January 2014

Callum M.

A husky would keep you fit- try keeping up with one of them

Matthew C.
28 January 2014

Matthew C.

Tom, greyhounds actually wouldn't be a great running partner anyway. They're great sprinters but not so much made for steady pace, (unless you're on a bike!) Labradors, German shepherds, really most medium sized dogs are good.

Tom D.
28 January 2014

Tom D.

Like Matthew it's great if you've got a larger, exercise-loving dog - I draw the line at greyhounds though!

Matthew C.
28 January 2014

Matthew C.

If you want to get the best exercise out of a dog get a breed which you can go running with like a border collie, not a little-legged yorkshire terrier!

Tanya M.
27 January 2014

Tanya M.

Our dog was my best friend until he decided rather than jogging along with me he'd rather dive off in the local canal and refuse to get out again. Now I jog alone and my husband walks the dog!

Bradley C.
27 January 2014

Bradley C.

We got a dog. Never met such a lazy creature in my life. She's overweight and the vet says she's got arthritic hips. So much for getting out and about and active.

Mary C.
27 January 2014

Mary C.

I couldn't agree more. Getting a dog was the best thing we ever did for our whole family's health! It really isn't just for Christmas...

Derek B.
27 January 2014

Derek B.

Man, I'd love a dog... My wife says she's got enough on her hands looking after the kids and a tiny baby as well. Maybe if I sell it to her in terms of health benefits?!

Elliot M.
27 January 2014

Elliot M.

A dog really is man's best friend - mine comes with me everywhere, even on my runs!

craig t.
27 January 2014

craig t.

Having a pet is great for getting you outdoors and for getting extra exercise outside the gym without even trying. Even if I skip a gym session I still have to walk the dog so she keeps me on my toes!

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