The more we learn about dogs, it seems the old adage “man’s best friend” couldn’t be more accurate. But dogs are far more than just loving and loyal companions; in fact, it seems we are only beginning to discover all the benefits of keeping a furry friend around.
Many studies show that dog owners report higher levels of happiness, which may seem obvious, but the impact runs much deeper than simply a superficial emotional response. Contributing to dog owners’ feelings of happiness are higher levels of physical activity, lower stress levels, lower blood pressure, and increased mental health. When considering these benefits, it would stand to reason that seniors, who not only face aging-related health issues but are also reaching increasingly concerning levels of inactivity, are the demographic with the most to gain from dog ownership.
Without understanding these benefits, dogs and seniors might seem like an unlikely pairing. But as more research is made available, it quickly becomes clear what positive impact dogs have on seniors’ health, activity, outlook, and even life expectancy. Time Magazine reported that nearly a third of Americans over 50 - some 31 million adults - are inactive, partaking in no physical exercise whatsoever. It’s not likely that dog owners are among them, as it has been proven that owning a dog is a surefire way to get more physically active. A study by BMC Public Health shows dog owners age 65 and up walk an average 2,700 more steps a day than their non-dog-owning counterparts. This amounts to an average of 20 extra minutes of activity a day - over 2 hours of additional exercise a week. If you’re wondering what kind of an impact this extra activity can have, consider that a half hour of walking a day has been linked to increased cardiovascular fitness, reduced risk of stroke and heart disease, stronger bones, and improvement in conditions such as high cholesterol, joint pain and stiffness, and hypertension.
The physical health benefits are clear, but what about mental health? We know that dogs can help lower stress and blood pressure, but there are myriad other emotional and psychological benefits as well. Having a dog can encourage more active socialization, leading to a greater sense of fulfillment in one’s personal life. For seniors who are retired, keeping busy and having regular social interaction is more important than ever. Dogs also help us spend more time outdoors, getting in touch with nature. And as unconditionally loving companions, dogs offer comfort and empathy and can decrease depression, anxiety, and loneliness. The effects may not be as immediately apparent to the eye, but we’ll let the numbers speak for themselves: 74% of pet owners surveyed reported mental health improvements after getting a pet. But for seniors, it’s even better - the study found that for baby boomers, 83% (and 82% of greatest/silent generations) reported having personally experienced mental health improvements from pets. That’s more than millennials (62%) and generation X (72%). It would seem the generation with the most to gain from dog ownership is also the most susceptible to their benefits.
It’s not hard to see how owning a dog can better one’s life, in both quality and longevity. If you are considering getting a dog of your own, check out our post on preparing for your first dog.
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