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10 Ways Dogs Make You Healthier

Your dog is more than just your best friend—he's also the key to living longer.

For many dog owners, "man's best friend" doesn't even begin to touch the sacred bond between humans and their furry companions. Fierce loyalty and a fuzzy face to snuggle up to at night are often among the biggest draws of dog ownership at the start.

But Fido could save your life.

New research suggests that human-canine interactions may be symbiotic, with animals' empathetic tendencies tempering their owners' reactions to stressful stimuli, and vice versa, creating a cyclical calming effect. Beyond emotional support, our Eat This, Not That! list of the ten ways dogs make you healthier might just convince you to stop by your local shelter to see what all the fuss is about. And to live your happiest and healthiest life, don't miss these essential 42 Ways to Lose 5 Inches of Belly Fat.

They Lower Your Blood Pressure

Blood pressure reading

High blood pressure, whether lifestyle-related or triggered by a family history of the condition, can make your body feel like a ticking time bomb. While untreated high blood pressure can significantly increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke, your pet might just be the key to lowering your numbers. Researchers at the University of South Carolina, Columbia have found that human subjects experienced lower blood pressure when petting or speaking to an animal, and enjoyed the greatest reduction in their blood pressure when doing the two at the same time.

They Reduce Your Heart Disease Risk

Dog on sofa

Seeing your dog's goofy face day after day and enjoying their boundless enthusiasm for your presence can make your heart swell in a figurative sense, but it's also quite literally strengthening that vital muscle, as well. Not only is interaction with animals correlated with lower stress, which can help improve your heart health, research published in the American Heart Association's Circulation suggests that dog ownership can lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and increase cardiovascular fitness, reducing your risk of heart disease along the way.

They Slash Your Stress Level

Woman and dog at park

If you're eager to de-stress, there are few better ways to go about it than spending time with your pooch. The exercise you get while taking your dog for a stroll is an effective means of reducing stress hormone cortisol, which triggers fat storage, and the very act of petting an animal can help temper stress, too. Researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University have also found that interacting with dogs significantly decreased stress for office workers while improving their overall productivity. Luckily, humans aren't the only ones benefitting from those canine cuddles; research published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science suggests that shelter dogs given affection from human visitors experienced fewer symptoms of stress, too.

They Help You Get Daily Exercise

Family walking dog

Even if you have difficulty finding time to squeeze a gym visit into your daily routine, you can still get plenty of exercise, thanks to your canine pal. Taking your dog on a few walks around your neighborhood or local park each day can help you get in a regular calorie-burning workout while reducing your risk of obesity and chronic disease. Research published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity reveals that individuals who got a dog increased their weekly amount of recreational walking by almost 50 minutes, making your pup your biggest ally when it comes to sticking to your workout plan. For more ways to get active, incorporate the 31 Sneaky Ways to Work Out Without Hitting the Gym into your routine!

They Boost Your Immune System

Baby and dog

Washing your hands regularly can help you reduce your risk of catching those pesky colds and flus that pass around your office, but a pet may offer even better protection. Research published in Pediatrics reveals that infants who grow up with a pet in their home are less sick than those who don't have an animal companion, and researchers at Pennsylvania's Wilkes University have found that petting a dog increased study subjects' secretion of antibody immunoglobulin A, potentially increasing immunity to disease along the way.

They Reduce Your Depression Risk

Smiling Pomeranian

Reducing your risk of the depression may be as simple as spending some time with your four-legged friend. Research suggests that petting a dog can boost your serotonin levels, helping fend off the blues, and the exercise you get while taking your pet for a stroll can help give you a serious endorphin rush. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have found that nursing home residents who spent time with a dog even felt less lonely over time than those who kept exclusively human company.

They Help Fight Pain

Man in wheelchair with dog

Pain relief doesn't exclusively come in pill form. While some chronic pain sufferers or surgical patients are greatly helped by medication, spending time with a canine companion can also help ease your pain. Research conducted at Loyola University Chicago Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola University Health System have even found that joint replacement patients required less pain medication following surgery when their pain management regimen was supplemented with animal therapy.

They Make You More Social

Couple walking golden retriever

There's no denying that making friends as an adult is no easy feat. Fortunately for those who find the idea of meeting new friends via app a harrowing prospect, pets can provide a simple way to socialize. A few trips to your local dog park or a shared walking routine can help socialize your prized pooch while giving you an opportunity to bond with fellow pet owners and get in some regular exercise, to boot. Research published in PLoS One suggests that pet ownership not only makes it easier to make friends, but fosters relationships that are offer support across a wide variety of metrics, as well.

They Make You Happier

Woman smiling at dog

Those big eyes, goofy grins, and slobbery kisses can make the most stoic pet owner feel a swell of emotion, brightening up even the gloomiest days. Spending time with your dog can increase your serotonin production, reduce stress, help you socialize, and give you a regular opportunity to get exercise, all of which can improve your mood. As for the age-old rivalry between cats and dogs, pups have their kitty counterparts beat when it comes to their owners' happiness; researchers at Manhattanville College found that dog owners reported higher happiness levels than those with only a feline friend at home.

They Increase Your Life Expectancy

Older couple walking dog

Enjoying a longer life may be as easy as spending some quality time with your dog. Not only does research suggest that owning a dog reduces your risk of high blood pressure, stress, heart disease, and depression while making it easier to schedule regular exercise and fend off common ailments, spending time with a pet has also been shown to stave off cognitive decline, keeping you mentally fit and potentially adding years to your life in the process. For more ways to enjoy a longer, healthier life, discover the 35 Expert Tips to Live Longer!


Sarah Crow
Sarah Crow is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!, where she focuses on celebrity news and health coverage. Read more about Sarah