Has your health gone to the dogs? Consider that a good thing.
“I think it is safe to say that animals are beneficial to our mental and physical health,” says Nancy Gee, a professor of psychiatry and director of the Center for Human-Animal Interaction at Virginia Commonwealth University, told NPR.
According to the National Institute of Health, petting a pup has decreased levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure. Other studies have found that animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost your mood
Dog ownership has also been linked to a longer life and better heart health, especially for heart attack and stroke survivors, according to a new study and a separate meta-analysis published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, a journal of the American Heart Association.
Petting other people’s dogs work, too.
You don’t have to own a dog to reap the rewards. New research from Washington State University, with support from the Waltham Petcare Science Institute, found that therapy dogs can help boost college students’ attention and memory and help them tackle stress.
In another study, nine-year-olds were asked to pet dogs twice a week for 20 minutes for four weeks. Researchers measured the kids’ cortisol levels before and after the four weeks of cuddling. The result: The kids who interacted with the dogs had much lower cortisol levels than the kids who didn’t.
Why do dogs chill us out?
What is it about dogs that makes humans relax? The research on that is less clear. NPR asked Megan Mueller, an associate professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, to weigh in. She hypothesizes that dogs take us out of our heads and make us live in the moment.
“They’re experiencing their environment with wonder and awe all the time, and they’re not bringing up what happened to them earlier in the day or what they’re thinking about in the future. They’re there right now,”
And humans aren’t the only ones getting the benefits. Dogs dig it, too. “It’s a two-way street,” said Gee. “The dogs’ oxytocin also increases when they interact with a human.”