The Best Friend Quotient

There’s nothing quite like the companionship of a faithful dog. They’re loyal and dependable. They love unconditionally. They can be funny, mischievous, and cuddly. And who doesn’t love a wagging tail and a lick in the face?

Our love affair with dogs has been going on for millennia, and when you think about how much positive energy they bring into our lives, it’s easy to understand why. The physical health benefits of dog ownership have been well documented and include better cardiovascular health, increased physical activity, lower cholesterol, and lower blood pressure. Dog owners generally go to the doctor less and spend fewer days in the hospital than people who have no pets. The American Heart Association has even linked dog ownership with a reduced risk for heart disease and greater longevity.

But did you know owning a dog can also have profound mental health benefits?

Dogs are acutely tuned in to our emotions and behavior, the words we use, and even our tone of voice and body language. So we naturally have a strong mental connection with them. When it comes to your mental health, a dog has magic powers to:

  • Relieve stress. Even the simple act of petting a dog can reduce harmful stress hormones such as cortisol, which is linked to anxiety and depression, and increase beneficial hormones such as oxytocin, which is linked to happiness and relaxation. Some people even experience increased levels of endorphins and dopamine when spending time with a dog.
  • Curb loneliness and depression. With loneliness and depression becoming a health epidemic, maybe everyone should get a dog. The companionship, unconditional love, calming presence, and social bond they provide are the ideal remedy for the blues.
  • Get you out into nature. A good dose of Mother Nature does wonders for our mental state, and owning a dog gives you the motivation to get out and soak up some fresh air and sunshine. And your dog will absolutely love you for it!
  • Offer empathy. Recent studies at the University of Vienna have suggested that dogs have an ability known as “emotional contagion,” the spread of feelings between animals and people, and can sense emotions and even differentiate between good and bad ones.
  • Comfort you. Therapy dogs have been used to comfort cancer patients, sexual abuse victims, children with mental illness, seniors with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and war veterans with PTSD. But your beloved pooch can provide you comfort even if you’ve just had a tough day.
  • Teach you about life. Dogs can teach you qualities such as kindness and patience, even though they may seriously test those qualities when they chew up your favorite shoes.

Are you near or at retirement age? The benefits of dog ownership are especially good for you.

Owning a dog can even help you age more slowly and gracefully by:

  • Giving you purpose. People are happiest when they have a purpose in life, but as we age, we lose many of the things that once gave our life purpose such as a career or raising children. Owning a dog in retirement can boost your morale and sense of self-worth, and satisfy the need to care for another being.
  • Helping you socialize. Walking the dog gets you out of the house to socialize with friends and other dog walkers, which helps you maintain a sense of community and belonging. That’s vital as we age.
  • Helping you stay active. This is a win-win, since walking the dog has benefits for both your physical and mental health.

Owning a dog has a profoundly positive impact on our lives, especially in retirement. It’s hard to beat having a companion that provides so many healthy benefits while loving you unconditionally.