In our pursuit of optimal health and a long fruitful life, we may want to explore the simple but profound relationship that can be had when caring for an animal—how about man’s (woman’s) best friend! We know that a life that involves caring for and serving others improves our quality of life, physical and mental health, and contributes to longevity. Having a “love exchange” with a pet can exponentially benefit the caregiver contributing biologically, psychologically, and socially.
The scientific literature is robust around the many physiological benefits of dog ownership. People weigh less, are more fit, have lower blood pressure, and improved cholesterol levels—all of which lower the risk for heart disease—the number one cause of death in 2022. Certainly, having the daily responsibility to take Fido on a short walk one or more times, likely benefits Fido’s owner most of all. If you pay attention, your furry friend is also delighted and grateful that you are harnessing him up for a spin, you then reap the benefits of receiving gratitude which is health improving on a whole other level!
There is a stress reducing, neurochemically mood enhancing response to both gently walking a dog and providing kindness and love. Of the many benefits, the little pooch will always appreciate you, never argue, always affirm your value, and simply adore you for being his/her friend. Emotionally, this relationship allows you to see a need and meet it wholeheartedly. Being present with the moments of dog-owner connection is literally a practice in awareness—an opportunity to strengthen your mindfulness muscle with all its benefits. These moments are not particularly complicated and relatively predictable, in these times of uncertainty and turmoil, this is a priceless experience and exchange with another. It is no surprise that dogs are emotional support animals for those suffering from a range of mental health issues including but not limited to PTSD, severe anxiety, depression, and trauma recovery.
Finally, with the increased social isolation hitting us hard from all sides i.e., a global pandemic, heavy reliance on technology, the degradation of the family unit, the companionship of a loving pet is magnificent for everyone from children to the elderly. Our needs change as we move through life, but one thing does not deviate and that is the need for social connection. We know that the people who live the longest have strong, emotionally intimate relationships. If you can’t cultivate an in-house dog opportunity for yourself or loved ones, there is always the local pound where they are more than willing to entertain volunteers. Moving our lives towards health-enhancing behaviors can take on many forms— “it’s a dog’s life” as they say, however, that actually may be a good thing!