By: Dr. Roger Landry, MD, MPH
Those who know me know that I am both a National Parks supporter and a dog enthusiast. As such, a friend and colleague was eager to share photos of her newly adopted puppy. You’ve heard me tell you how important it is to be socially connected, to move more, and the benefits of having children in your life; but did you know that being around pets – dogs in particular – can support your successful aging journey too?
According to multiple studies, interacting with a dog prompts the release of serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin – hormones that increase our wellbeing and reduce pain. Here are some other benefits you might not have considered:
1) Dogs Make Us More Active. Consider Fido as your personal trainer. His energy will encourage you to move more, and he’ll hold you accountable if you try to miss a day of going for a walk. According to my colleague, after adopting a two-month old puppy she named Simone, her daily FitBit steps went from between 10,000 and 12,000 daily steps to 18,000 – without even trying.
2) They Make Us Healthier. All that movement adds up. Those who spend time with pets are reported to have lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and are at reduced risk of heart attack
3) Dogs Are Social Butterflies. Having trouble meeting new people? Dogs are the ultimate ice breaker. They’ll greet everyone they meet and encourage conversation among strangers. They also have been known to decrease loneliness among older adults.
4) They Reduce Our Stress. Yes, I know. It may not seem that way when Bella is chewing up the couch, but research continually shows us that caring for a pet (be it a dog, cat or other animal) lowers our cortisol levels – the hormone responsible for the stress response.
5) They Encourage Us to Be More Spiritual. Dog owners are more likely to spend time in nature, taking their furry companion for walks. And, it’s much harder to have your eyes glued to your iPhone with a bundle of energy vying for your attention.
I’m not suggesting that everyone go out and adopt a dog tomorrow, but if there’s an opportunity to spend time tossing a Frisbee around with the neighbor’s pup, you may just want to take it!
Live Long. Live Well!