Man’s Best Friend – How A Dog can Alleviate Depression
With their cheerful demeanour and unwavering devotion, dogs have long been considered one of man’s most trusty companions. What’s more, according to scientific research, our four-legged friends seem to also have the ability to improve the mental health of their owners. But is it really possible that a dog could help to alleviate a condition as serious as depression?
According to a mounting body of evidence, the answer is “yes”. A number of recent studies suggest that dogs can boost levels of the chemicals which make us feel good, simply by allowing themselves to be stroked. Not only do dogs provide affection and companionship, which helps to lift the mood of depression sufferers, but people who own dogs take more exercise; and the mental health benefits of physical activity are well documented.
Stroking a Dog Lifts The Spirits
Dogs are dedicated companions, there’s little doubt about that. But some researchers suggest that dogs have a positive impact on their owners’ mental health which goes beyond a friendly nuzzle and tail-wag.
A recent study found that the simple act of stroking a pet dog can lift a person’s mood and help them to achieve better long-term mental health. The research, from the University of Missouri-Columbia in the U.S, suggests that the hormonal changes which take place when people and dogs interact, could help to alleviate depression.
The study found that a few minutes of stroking a pet dog prompted the release of “feel good” hormones, including serotonin, in dog owners. What’s more, participants’ levels of the stress hormone cortisol dropped after a few minutes of petting their favorite pooch. In addition to this, their blood pressure fell by around 10 percent 15 to 30 minutes after their stroking time began.
A Dog Can Knock Years off their Owners’ Age
The benefits of exercise on mental health are well known, so it might seem obvious that a gentle walk in the park is a good idea for anyone suffering from depression. But it may come as a surprise to hear that dog owners, particularly those over the age of 60, could have the fitness level of someone 10 years younger.
Recent research featuring more than 500 pensioners found that those with dogs were far more active than those without. On average, participants with a pet were able to achieve exercise levels which were the same as people ten years younger, the study from St Andrews University found.
Researcher Dr Zhiqiang Feng said: “It is well known that pet ownership may help alleviate feelings of loneliness and depression in older people, but one area that has received little attention is the effect of dog ownership on the physical activity levels of the elderly.
“Our results show that dog ownership is associated with an increased level of physical activity in the over-65s. On average, older dog owners were 12 per cent more active than their counterparts who did not own a dog.”
Improving Mood with a Canine Companion
Of course, having a dog is a responsibility, and it’s vital to ensure that you’re prepared, both mentally and physically, for the work involved in looking after one. However, as research shows, they’re a highly rewarding pet and can help to lift your spirits, not to mention provide valuable companionship.
If you would like regular updates and interesting stories especially geared to over 50s health, please follow us on Facebook.