How owning a dog can improve your mental health
PUBLISHED: 13:55 15 July 2019
Aside from the ‘daily joy’ dogs bring to our lives, are the many ‘hidden extras’ that even the most devoted dog owner often unwittingly takes for granted
Dogs have been inextricably linked with everything from combatting loneliness, indirectly instigating structured exercise regimes that lower blood pressure whilst also reducing the likelihood of debilitating allergies in young children.
Some of the most obvious fringe benefits undoubtedly come about courtesy of dogs demanding regular, daily exercise in addition to providing perpetual companionship, which is particularly pertinent during those more isolated & reflective moments in life.
Recent studies go so far as to suggest that there are even irrefutable links between owning a pet and reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
Clinical psychologist and author Linda Blair runs canine & owner mindfulness classes that tap into the biological truth that cuddling a pet results in the hormone oxytocin (a 'connecting' hormone that makes us feel safe and secure) being released by both the pet and its owner.
Dogs bring invaluable structure, routine and clarity of thought to even those most horrendous moments in life (divorce, redundancy, bereavement or even re-adjusting to an empty nest) a living, breathing comfort blanket that's completely dependent on your ongoing love and care.
Daily routines must never be under-estimated in terms of fostering a greater sense of inner calm, which in turn helps keep depression in check. Even a daily walk of 13 minutes can play a key role in re-calibrating one's neuro-chemical balance, thereby acting as an emotional safety valve.
Dogs also encourage owners come out of their shells, stimulating conversation and countless connections with other dog owners and walkers.
Pets teach children about responsibility and the 'circle of life,' because in many instances the family pet will be the first bereavement episode a young person faces.
For humans of all ages, there's a growing body of research that suggests the presence of a dog greatly curtails the likelihood of minor ailments (colds & coughs). Whilst for children, regular proximity to a pet can dramatically taper the threat of asthma and allergic rhinitis. One study went so far as to propose that dog owners were 8 x more likely to be alive after a heart attack than their non-dog-owning peers, although the actual biological logic (regular exercise, beneficial gut bacteria….) is less clear.
Of course dogs bring far more than fostering a more selfless mindset, extra exercise and the possibility of a healthier medical outlook, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be blind to these most welcome hidden extras!
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