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Pet Friends Matter

Four ways dogs are good for your overall well-being.

Dog owners may get more exercise than the rest of us, since people with dogs tend to take them for regular walks. But it turns out the health benefits of caring for a dog extend beyond the cardiovascular variety. Several studies show that dog ownership can improve moods, increase mobility, lighten stress loads, and more. Read on for more about the many ways a four-legged friend is good for your well-being, then follow our advice on finding the right dog for you.

1. They’re good for your heart. A study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) explored the cardiovascular benefits of dog ownership on those who’d suffered a heart attack. The study found that a year after the heart attack (regardless of its severity), dog owners were much more likely to still be alive than those who did not own a pooch. Researchers give significant credit to the regular physical activity of walking and playing with the dogs. Pet ownership has also been associated with lower heart rates and blood pressure, both at rest and under stressful situations.

2. They’re good for weight control. One NIH-funded study in particular found that dog owners who regularly walk their own dog were less likely to be obese than those who did not own or walk a dog.

3. They’re good for your spirit. It’s hard to not talk to anyone when you’re out and about with your canine. And even those small social interactions can help your state of mind. Mental health experts point out that staying socially connected as you get older can help you live longer. It’s believed that strong social relationships serve as a buffer for mental and physical declines. Beyond the increased human interactions, simply having a pet to care for can ease loneliness and give people a sense of purpose.

4. They’re good for maintaining mobility as you age. For older adults, the benefits of all that dog walking spill over into daily tasks. One NIH-funded study that focused on individuals in their 70s and 80s found that those who regularly walked their dog had greater mobility inside their homes than those who didn’t walk a dog. The payoff there is that the increased mobility potentially reduces their risk of falling.

How to Find the Right Dog for You

It’s hard to deny the ways dog ownership is good for you, but that doesn’t mean you should race out to the local shelter and take home the first cute furry face you spot. Experts recommend first carefully considering the following:

  • The dog’s temperament. Will it be OK staying alone for long periods of time when you are at work, for example? Is it a breed known as being high-energy—and if so, does your lifestyle match its needs? The websites dogbreedinfo.com and AKC.org can help you research different dog breeds and mixes.
  • Its size when full grown. Yes, we fall in love with puppies, but take a look at the fully grown projections before making any final decisions. It’s also smart to consider a dog’s grooming needs (some breeds are higher maintenance than others).
  • Your budget. Figures from the AKC state that the average annual cost of dog ownership is $2,500. So it’s wise to review your finances before you welcome a dog into your home.
  • A test run. If you’re serious about getting a dog, you may want to start off fostering dogs for a local rescue, or volunteering on site. This way you can see if dog ownership, albeit on a temporary basis, is really right for you, your family, and your lifestyle.