We are a nation of animal lovers and pet keepers. We love nothing more than to pamper our pooches and cuddle our cats and the good news is they are actually looking after us as much as we are caring for them. Having a pet gives your health a boost and the most beneficial of these seems to be a dog.
As well as making our hearts burst with love and pride, being a dog owner can actually protect your heart and keep it in good health. Along with the cardiovascular benefits that the regular walks have on you as well as your pet, there is a link between having a dog and a lowering in blood pressure. This could be because of the way dogs can calm humans in time of stress.
It’s been noted how people who have a pet dog experience less cardiovascular reactivity when they are in a position of stress. So their heart rate is less likely to elevate and their blood pressure remains on a more even keel. Interestingly when dog owners do experience stress they are more likely to see their heart and blood pressure return to normal sooner, meaning the impact of that stress on the body is less.
There is research being conducted on whether owning a dog also results in lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels as some studies have suggested this is the case. If this is so, it’s a very positive effect for heart health as well. Especially when combined with the fact when dog owners do suffer heart attacks they have better survival rates than non-dog owners.
If you think stroking and petting your pooch makes you feel better – you are right. In fact it’s good for you and your dog as in both cases the act of cuddling your dog means that oxytocin in released into both you and your pets brains. This chemical both soothing and calming and creates then strengthens the bond between you both. This hormone can stave off depression and anxiety which is why we feel happier immediately afterwards. But the effects are more far reaching than that. Oxytocin also helps reduce blood-pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Which is why stroking and hugging a pet makes you feel happier and more relaxed instantly.
Cortisol over a long term can cause a depressed immune system and impact heart health, mental health and also contribute to problems like weight gain and an ability to cope with day-to-day life. Anything which can keep it in check and help us regulate it is beneficial.
Feeling lonely, isolated and useless has been linked with increased blood pressure, higher cholesterol levels, depression and Alzheimer’s disease. So the companionship our furry friends give us are important in the way they make us part of a community by getting us out there walking and speaking to other dog fans, which in turn improves mood and reduces stress. Researchers have dog owners make friends more easily and 4 in 5 speak with other dog owners during walks. This contribution to your wellbeing also influences your health too. Owning a dog gives structure and meaning to the day and means we have someone else to care for. The stress of being lonely with the increased cortisol levels that brings is again bad for our health – but having your furry friend on hand has been shown to reduce these and prevent the negative feelings in the first place.
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