What walks, talks, and is always happy to see you?
Updated: Aug 24
In today’s society dogs have become an integral part of everyday life. As a common household pet and recognised family member, dogs are helping people to improve their daily fitness levels, connect with members of society and increase levels of oxytocin/ feelings of happiness. Have a read through some benefits of spending time with our furry friends below!
Physical inactivity is quickly becoming an issue in today’s modern world. In a society where the use of technology is progressively making everyday tasks simpler and faster, people are tending to become more inactive and overweight, instead opting for the quick and easy option. However research is now starting to suggest that a way to decrease these levels of inactivity and excess weight gain is through spending time with our furry friends. A study conducted by Wohlfarth, Mutschler, Beetz, Kreuser & Korsten-Reck in 2013 found that when observing a group of obese children aged 8-12 years old, children reacted and profited more from the presence of a dog (compared to a human counterpart) when participating in a variety of movement games. The study concluded that the dual participation of a dog could enhance the motivation for activity in children – helping to promote weight loss and a sustainable lifestyle change.
Similarly, Brown and Rhodes found other positive correlations in studies between dog ownership and physical activity in 2006, where questionnaires collecting information about dog ownership, demographics, leisure-time walking and physical activity levels were mailed out to a random sample of men and women aged 20 to 80 years. Results revealed that dog owners spent more time in mild and moderate physical activity than non-dog owners. The study concluded that dog owners walked an average of 300 minutes per week, whereas non-dog owners only walked an average of 168 minutes per week – finding that dog-owners felt a sense of obligation to their dog to go for a walk and continuing on to show that the presence of a dog provided motivation and social companionship. So when we take our dogs out for a walk, in turn there is a positive outcome for the physical health of both the dog and us.
In a world that celebrates being ‘busy’, we are fortunate that nowadays dog walking is permitted almost everywhere, with green spaces and dog parks available to use in most locations. While walking the dog is perceived to be primarily for the dog’s wellbeing, going for a walk with a friend or heading to your local dog park can also provide dog owners with the opportunity to socialize and catch up with loved ones and neighbours. This socialization around your own neighbourhood gives locals a chance to build a sense of community and belonging – which can be beneficial for your own individual wellbeing and the community as a whole.
Now onto the mental health benefits! A multitude of studies have now shown the presence of a dog can significantly lower an individual’s blood pressure, increase levels of oxytocin and dopamine, reduce stress and anxiety and improve general health and wellbeing. In a study conducted by Wohlfarth et al. in 2013, results found that upon interacting with dogs, a number of positive effects in humans occurred. Such effects were a physiological reduction of stress, an increased release of oxytocin, improvement of mood and social interaction, better motor skills and performance, as well as an increase in concentration on a task after exposure to a dog. Research conducted by Beetz et al. in 2012 has also shown that short interactions with a dog will reportedly decrease blood pressure in humans and reduce psychological stress – such as fear and anxiety, after animal contact. Overall, it would appear that canine interaction has positive benefits on individual’s general health – with dog owners seeming to recover faster after illness and visiting the doctor less frequently than non-dog owners (Marchant-Ludlow, 2016; Wohlfarth et al., 2013).
Animal-assisted therapy is being increasingly used across the world as a means to lower stress and depression, as well as to increase recovery and uplift spirits. Dogs on Campus, a pet therapy program founded by Kent State University, Ohio is a program set up within the university to help make the transition away from home easier on students. Dr Kathy Adamle (founder of the Dogs on Campus program in 2015) found students and staff considered pets as part of their families, and thus by allowing and bringing dogs onto the campus, this then helped to reduce levels of separation anxiety for those who were feeling homesick. Animal-assisted therapy also works on the idea that animals calm us and foster confidence, therefore helping to increase an individual’s self-esteem levels. Marchant-Ludlow (2016) further enhances this point by acknowledging that caring for a dog can help children to grow up more active and secure, while also providing valuable companionship for older adults.
Marchant-Ludlow (2016) concludes these benefits for us nicely, stating that, “dogs in particular can reduce stress, anxiety and depression, ease loneliness, encourage exercise and playfulness and even improve your cardiovascular health”. So with this in mind, give your furry friend a hug and put your walking shoes on for a whole range of mutual benefits!
Find out more, by reading about about why we should put one foot in front of the other more often.