“There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face,” said author Ben Williams. But dogs are more than just cute, comforting members of the family. Science is only beginning to explore all of the ways our four-legged friends benefit our lives, and the results are worth wagging your tail for. The presence, and sometimes even the image of a dog can have positive effects on your health, career and psyche.
Heart Health and Fitness
The American Heart Association (AHA) recently released a statement about the benefits of dog ownership on heart health, and the results might make your heart skip a beat. The ASPCA revealed that there are about 78 million dogs owned in the U.S., or 39 percent of households. An AHA committee looked at this data and compared it with previous studies and health trends, and the results are... not surprising for dog lovers, but good nevertheless.
Owning a dog reduces cardiovascular risk, as dog owners are 54 percent more likely to get recommended levels of exercise. Whether it's long walks, throwing a tennis ball or trying to wrangle unsuspecting puppies into a bark collars, dogs keep us on our toes. The CDC also states that owning a dog can decrease your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and feelings of loneliness (more on that later). The medical community isn't sure whether these benefits are the direct result of increased activity or a more round-about effect of a human-animal bond.
Productivity at Work and Other Important Tasks
For anyone who has ever needed an excuse to browse adorable pictures of puppies and kitties on the Internet, now you can to your heart's content. A study conducted by researchers at Hiroshima University concluded that looking at photos of baby animals prior to working increases your productivity, focus, attentiveness and ability to work well with others.
In the study, three focus groups where not shown, then shown images of pups and kittens prior to completing a series of tasks. After being shown the images, the “puppy pics” group was 44 percent more productive when completing focus-related tasks, and their scores improved by 16 percent. Researches also noted that they were more attentive towards each other and their tasks, and their actions were more deliberate.
Happiness and Mental Health
Whoever came up with the “man's best friend” tag line was a genius. The dog-human bond goes deeper than meets the eye, and there are plentiful studies to back it up. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that petting a dog feels good, and feeling good helps make us happy. It does, however, take a scientist to measure the neurological impact that dogs have on us, and why exactly they make people happier. Studies show petting a dog releases oxytocin, the “cuddle hormone,” which reduces blood pressure, but it also decreases levels of cortisol, according to USA Today. Cortisol is the hormone most linked to stress, anxiety and other mental health concerns.
Although the link between dogs and mental health is just starting to be understood, some doctors even suggest dog ownership as an alternative to Prozac or other antidepressants. You've probably heard the old saying “my goal in life is to be as good of a person as my dog thinks I am,” but it seems that the simple act of owning a dog helps you reach that potential.