It’s no surprise to see articles touting the physical health benefits of walking your dog. Walking is, after all, physical exercise, whether or not your dog is with you. However, fewer people realize that walking your dog affects your mind and heart as well as your body. Your walk with your four-legged friend can help you fight mental illness, relax, and even feel better about yourself. Here are the
Lower Your Stress
Spending time with your dog lowers your stress by actually reducing the cortisol in your blood. Cortisol is a stress hormone. Exercise has also been proven to lower your stress levels, so by walking your dog, you are simultaneously getting both of these benefits.
Reduce the Symptoms of Mental Illness
Are you thinking of playing a game of fetch while out with your dog? Engaging in a game with a pet will boost your levels of feel-good hormones such as serotonin and dopamine.
Many major medications that treat depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses work by boosting the levels of serotonin and dopamine that you have in your bloodstream. While walking your dog isn’t a replacement for medication, if you have a mental illness, you can expect it to help you manage your symptoms. Some research has suggested that this effect is more powerful if you’re currently in a crisis. When you need to handle a big disappointment or tragedy, heading out for a walk may help.
Reduce the Odds of Developing Mental Illness
Research suggests that there is more to learn about how pets help us reduce mental illnesses from developing in the first place. One study has demonstrated that children who live with pets, whether cats or dogs are less likely to develop Schizophrenia. Another study demonstrated that children who lived with dogs were less likely to have anxiety, even when compared to children who got the same level of physical activity.
Sense of Well-Being
Your self-esteem and sense of well-being can both get a boost when you’re walking your dog. The effect may be especially pronounced if you can walk your dog in nature. Researchers believe that being in nature helps people move “outside” of themselves. It helps us gain perspective and think about our effect on other things in the world. Of course, owning a dog does the same thing in a much more grounded way.
Hanging out with your dog lowers your loneliness, but doing something with them, whether it’s a walk or a game of fetch, helps to reduce your loneliness further. You have something that depends on you, and that is a powerful reminder of the good you can do in the world. Lowering loneliness may be especially important for seniors or those who have recently suffered a loss.
You’re not just connected to your dog when you’re walking him or her. When you’re headed around your neighbourhood, you meet your neighbors, you see what’s going on in your community, and you naturally feel more connected to it. A study demonstrated that those who walked their dog at least four times a week felt more connected to their community. This connectedness helps bolster your mental health too.
Bonus: Walking Benefits Your Dog’s Mental Health
Walking isn’t just for your dog’s physical health. Just like you, your four-legged friend gets comfort, well-being and stress reduction from your walks together.