A university called Chapman U organizes a program called Furry Friends for Finals in which students can pet one of 10 puppies that are stationed outside the library the week before exams as a means to de-stress. Petting and playing with puppies has shown to increase levels of "feel-good" hormones serotonin and dopamine, which can help reduce stress levels and help improve memory and concentration.
Dog domestication began approximately 15,000 years ago, according to fossil records. By living with humans, dogs benefited from our up-right gait, color vision and use of tools, which ensured that they had readily-available food.
Humans benefited from the protection, warmth, sense of smell and acute hearing that came with dog companionship. Here are some modern-day reasons why living among our furry, canine friends may be healthier than switching to gluten-free bread.
1. Dogs can improve physical fitness.
The Journal of Physical Activity & Health found that dog owners are more likely to reach their fitness goals than those without canine companions. Researchers at Michigan State University found that dog owners are 34 percent more likely to fit in 150 minutes of walking per week than non-dog owners. The study also found that owning a dog promotes health and fitness even after you take your pup for a stroll, increasing leisure-time physical activity by 69 percent.
A University of Missouri study found that walking with a puppy leads to a 28 percent increase in walking speed, compared to only a 4 percent increase when walking with a human buddy.
Not only are dog walkers getting more exercise, they're getting better quality exercise (walking faster and possibly covering more mileage), than people who simply walk or run on their own. Dog walkers are also more likely to stick to their fitness plans than those who walk with other humans or alone.
Dog-owning families often promote physical activity within the household, shows a study from the University of Virginia, which found that teens from dog-owning families are more physically active than teens whose families don't own a pet dog. With rising rates of childhood obesity, owning a dog might give kids incentive to get out of the house and spend more time outside, leading to better fitness levels—thereby lowering the incidence of disease—later in life.
2. Dogs can help prevent chronic disease.
Dog owners who walk their dogs regularly have one-third the risk of diabetes than those who don't own a dog, according to exercise scientist, Cindy Lentino. This statistic highlights the importance of maintaining physical activity levels and controlling stress levels as a means of preventing the occurrence of type II diabetes, rather than just a focusing on diet as the sole root cause.
Dogs prevent autoimmune disease and allergies in children. Researchers at the University of Cinncinati College of Medicine found that children from families with a history of allergies are less likely to develop eczema and asthma (atopy) if they grow up with a pet dog starting at birth.
If we consider that animals are typically "dirtier" than humans, this research fits with the Hygiene Hypothesis, which states that the more dirt kids are exposed to, the less likely they are to suffer from autoimmune diseases and allergies in childhood.
3. Dogs can improve mental health and social relationships.
Researchers at Central Michigan University found that when a dog is present in a collaborative group setting, group members rank their teammates higher in terms of trust, team cohesion and intimacy.
Being close with a dog helps improve human relationships. Studies find that owning and walking a dog increases social interaction. Dogs help ease people out of social isolation or shyness, says Nadine Kaslow, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University in Atlanta.
Children who experience caring for a dog have higher levels of empathy and self-esteem than children without pet dogs, shows child psychologist Robert Bierer. And children who practice reading to a dog see a 12 percent improvement in reading skills over a 10-week period when compared to children who didn't read to a dog (who showed no improvement).
Pet owners with AIDS are far less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets. "The benefit is especially pronounced when people are strongly attached to their pets," says researcher Judith Siegel, PhD. Petting and playing with a dog has shown to increase levels of serotonin and dopamine.
4. Dogs can help manage chronic disease.
Research suggests that dogs have a beneficial effect on improving social behavior and minimizing agitation and anxiety in people with dementia. Hospital visits from a "therapy dog" animate patients, helping them become more active and responsive while offering them a welcome distraction from pain or loneliness.
Loyola university researchers found that people who regularly petted dogs needed 50 percent less pain medication when recovering from surgery. Owning a dog or undergoing "pet therapy" is being studied for people suffering from fibromyalgia.
A study from the National Institutes of Health found dog owners had a better one-year survival rate following a heart attack than non-dog owners. Male pet owners have less signs of heart disease—indicated by lower triglyceride and LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels—than non-owners. Studies show that the mere act of petting a dog decreases blood pressure.
In one study, stockbrokers with high blood pressure who adopted a cat or dog had lower blood pressure readings in stressful situations than people without pets. And elderly dog owners require 20 percent less medical care than non-dog owners, according to a study at UCLA.
Walking a dog or just caring for a pet can provide exercise and companionship. Midland Life Insurance Company asks clients over age 75 if they have a pet as part of their medical screening. Having a pet reduces the amount of health insurance they may have to pay.
According to these statistics, owning a pet may be healthier than the kale and quinoa salad you just had.
This article is not meant to diagnose, treat or prevent disease and does not replace the advice of a trained medical professional.