There are lots of great reasons to rescue a dog. You get to save them from being euthanized in the shelter system, make a dent in the pet overpopulation crisis, and get the joy of building a trusting relationship with a new friend. You also get lots in return – unconditional love, no judgement, and someone new to remind you of the simple pleasures in life.
Turns out there is even more reason to bring a canine companion into your life: cardiovascular health. February is American Heart Month…a great time to learn more about this research-backed health benefit of rescuing a dog.
LOWER HEART RATE AND BLOOD PRESSURE
Let’s start with the basics. Both heart rate and blood pressure are baseline indicators of heart health. High levels of either can be a warning sign of cardiovascular disease. Left unchecked, these worrying signs can contribute to several pulmonary concerns as we age.
Study after study has shown that taking the time to interact with a dog can lower both HR and BP. Turns out, it doesn’t actually matter if that dog is a member of your pack or not. Just taking the time to pet them, play with them, or talk with them is enough to experience this benefit.
If dog ownership isn’t a fit for your lifestyle, consider volunteering with a rescue group. Find a level of commitment that works for you, from helping to staff a table at one of our rescue events to taking a shift as a pet care volunteer. Not being able to own a dog doesn’t mean you can’t be part of the solution. There are a number of ways to experience the heart-healthy benefits of dogs in your life.
DON’T WORRY, BE HAPPY!
Dogs remind us not to sweat the small stuff. In fact, their presence in our lives has been shown to lower stress levels. This is demonstrated through higher levels of feel-good hormones like oxytocin and lower levels of the so-called “stress hormone,” cortisol.
Turns out that this is not just a one-way benefit. When tested for the same hormones, dogs showed a similar lower stress level reaction after spending time with people. Think of it as a “chill” feedback loop.
Looks like we really are meant to be together. After thousands of years together, people and domesticated dogs have evolved a mutually beneficial relationship right down to our physiology.
In addition to lowering stress levels in the moment, some research has shown that people with dogs are more resilient to stress, meaning they recover faster from stressful life triggers.
Since stress management strategies are often touted by doctors as an important way to lower this lifestyle risk factor for cardiovascular disease, it is worth noting that rescuing a dog might also be rescuing yourself.
GET OFF THE COUCH AND PLAY WITH ME!
Probably no big surprise here, but dog owners have been shown to have higher activity levels than their non-dog-owning counterparts. Research has documented this phenomenon across different age groups, genders, and even those recovering from major coronary events.
Exercise levels with dog ownership may improve for a variety of reasons. A few daily walks around your neighborhood is one way to add to your daily step count for sure. Kids in particular seem to gain big benefits when they have dogs in their lives. They are more likely to spend time outside being active. This is great news for parents looking for a way to pry their kids from screens and enjoy the outdoors.
In addition, dogs have such a love for being active and playful that they may encourage all of us to have a bit more appreciation for the joy of moving our bodies, getting more engaged in an active lifestyle, and perhaps most of all, remind us how fun it is to soak in some rays and play some games.
NATURAL WEIGHT LOSS
Dog ownership has been shown to be correlated with lower levels of obesity. One of the areas where this effect has been most studied is in childhood obesity rates. Since we all know that America is facing an obesity crisis, dog ownership may be one way to help our kids engage in movement that is fun, natural, and focused on joy rather than enforced exercise.
Although no study has been designed to look at the long-term benefits of dog ownership, we might speculate about the value of adding dogs to our kids’ lives.
This is particularly true if we get our kids involved with training, animal rescue volunteerism, dog sports, and other ways to directly build a positive relationship with our canine companions. By giving them the gift of loving and building trust with dogs early on, they may reap the benefits for the rest of their lives.
Matthew Coulton is a professional writer and owns a business that employs professional dog trainers & veterinarian advisers that aim to provide all the info people need to raise a confident canine.