By Angie Horjus, NBC-HWC
The “Dog Days of summer” are coming to an end and if your spirits seem a bit dampened by the winding down of the season, perhaps try looking down—at your dog. There’s nothing like the sweet face and boundless energy of a puppy. Pets, in general, are part of a healthy lifestyle. They help us to think outside of ourselves, practice our nurturing side and open us to receiving the unconditional love and attention we all desire. There are several benefits to having man’s best friend at your side—keeping you fit and healthy inside and out. Here are my favorites:
Pups help you think outside yourself.
Are you a puppy parent? The benefits of focusing on someone besides yourself can be a true mood-lifter. Think of how volunteering gets us out of our own head and into helping others. When we take time to nurture another, our needs to feel needed, included, productive and worthy automatically get met. Pets also help us practice our nurturing side—that natural instinct to take care of another. It may feel a lot like parenting, which is so rewarding in many ways.
Fur babies offer unconditional love.
We all desire love and attention that other busy humans cannot always consistently deliver. Dogs are flawless in this sense—they do not disappoint. We can tell our dogs anything without judgement. I remember my kids practicing reading to our golden retriever Charlie. He was by far the best listener in the house. And, science supports the positive relationship between pups and humans. Studies have shown that when a dog owner looked into a pet’s eyes, levels of oxytocin—the so-called “love hormone”—increased in both owner and pet.
Fido can help keep you fit and healthy.
You’ve found the perfect workout partner—one who won’t complain and is always ready to go. Forced daily walks whether you feel like it or not is the gift a new puppy brings. They have so much energy to burn that walking your new dog is essential to their good health and yours benefits, too. Walking your dog can help with heart health, blood sugar, blood pressure and preventing chronic conditions such as diabetes. Plus, all of that walking helpful for both you and your pooch to get good sleep. So make it a goal to take the pup out for an after dinner walk as a regular routine.
Mutts boost your mental health.
Simply giving your pup a hug lifts your brain’s feel-good chemicals. Walking for mental fitness is an important gift a pup can help deliver. And getting outside is always a good thing for your mental health, which your dog will require whether you walk far or watch your fur baby in the yard.
Your pooch gives you a reason to socialize.
If you’re an introverted person, owning a pet can provide a reason for you to socialize, especially dogs. Humans and dogs are both social creatures. While you may not thrive on being social, you still need it just like your canine counterpart. Walking your dog can help you spark up conversations with other dog owners you meet along your route. For people who live alone or don’t have family nearby, pets provide companionship—which helps decrease feelings of loneliness and helps fight depression.
Canine companions add structure to your days.
It’s a literal life adjustment when you add a dog to your home. Between walks several times a day to your sleep structure changing, having a new puppy always forces new routines. Having a feeding schedule for meals or certain times that you walk your dog will also add more structure to your day, making it a little easier to be more organized and productive.
Whatever your favorite breed, if you have a four-legged fur baby living with you remember that it’s a positive reciprocal relationship. It’s a lot like physical fitness—the effort we put into taking optimal care of our body gives us back important results. So take good care of your dog, and your dog will take great care of you.
About the Author: Angela Horjus, NBC-HWC is among the first National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coaches at Priority Health, and in the U.S. She approaches her clients and all people with curiosity, respect and a spirit of fun. Angela’s passion for helping others become the best versions of themselves has inspired her current work as a health and wellness coach and throughout her past ventures. Her fitness career of 20 years, including but not limited to group fitness and personal training, cultivated the inspiration to write articles promoting self-improvement and personal growth. Angela’s continuing education is with nationally recognized institutions in health, fitness and wellness specialties. She also has a bachelor’s degree in English from Grand Valley State University. Angela is currently working on her American College of Lifestyle Medicine certification.