Petting other people’s dogs even briefly can boost your health for MONTHS on end
- The stress hormone cortisol drops in people after just 5 minutes spent with a dog
- The feel-good hormone oxytocin also increases, for both the person and the dog
- Dog ownership has even more benefits including better heart health, experts say
- READ MORE: Being around dogs boosts ‘positive’ serotonin and dopamine levels
Nobody needs to be told that introducing yourself and petting a stranger’s dog can brighten your day — but a growing body of research suggests that it could be great for your health as well.
A new field of scientific study is finding that even brief positive experiences between people and man’s best friend can have a lasting impact, lowering stress hormones and increasing what experts sometimes call ‘the love hormone.’
In fact, there’s growing evidence that even just brief moments of quality time with a good dog can also help people think better.
Twice-weekly short interactions between school children and dogs helped improve children’s reasoning skills and concentration — positive effects that researchers found persisted for months on end.
A new field of scientific study is finding that even brief positive experiences between people and man’s best friend can have a lasting impact, lowering stress hormones and increasing what experts sometimes call ‘the love hormone’
‘I think it is safe to say that animals are beneficial to our mental and physical health,’ psychiatry professor Nancy Gee, director of the Center for Human-Animal Interaction at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), told National Public Radio.
‘We’re seeing really nice effects,’ she added.
Gee’s center at VCU is part of an explosion of new research into the health-improving potential of people interacting more often with animals.
Research into the topic has expanded thanks to funding both from the public sector, including the US National Institutes of Health, and private not-for-profits, notably the Waltham PetCare Science Institute.
Gee is quick to point out that ‘pets are not a panacea,’ however, and that many of the therapy dogs used in her group’s research have been specially selected for their good behavior, friendly demeanor and willingness to follow directions.
Plus, not every person is a dog person, whether due to allergies or simple personal preference.
‘But for people who really get it, who really connect with the animals,’ Gee said, ‘they really can make a big difference.’
Last year, a team of medical researchers and psychologists in Australia reviewed 129 peer-reviewed studies of human-dog interactions finding that more than half those studies measured positive physiological changes inside people’s bodies and minds.
In particular, these studies have shown that the presence of the stress hormone cortisol plummets in people who have simply enjoyed 5 to 20 minutes with a dog. It didn’t matter, the researchers said, whether it was their pet or someone else’s.
‘Also, we see increases in oxytocin, that feel-good kind of bonding hormone,’ Gee told NPR.
The Australian team also found broad scientific consensus that human-dog interactions increased ‘heart rate variability,’ changes in people’s heartbeat which have proven to be a good measure of overall improvements in health.
Higher ‘heart rate variability’ (HVR), according to medical experts, has been linked to increased rates of relaxation, while lower HVR has been associated with major depression diagnoses and a higher risk of fatal heart disease.
‘What I love about this research,’ Gee said, ‘is that it’s a two-way street,’
‘We see the same thing in the dogs,’ she noted. ‘So the dogs’ oxytocin also increases when they interact with a human.’
Evidence has mounted that the presence of the stress hormone cortisol plummets in people who have simply enjoyed 5 to 20 minutes with a dogs. It didn’t matter, research has shown, whether it was their pet or someone else’s. But the best part: the dogs’ brains felt the love too
Gee herself has contributed to international collaborations on this research, helping scientists at the UK’s University of Lincoln with a randomized control trial studying how regular playtime with dogs could benefit school children.
The team looked at the effects of short interactions between young students, each around 8 and 9 years old, and dogs visiting their classroom about two times a week.
She and her colleagues found that the students who got in some playtime with dogs during the week had lower stress and improved ‘executive functioning,’ meaning that their reasoning skills and their ability to focus got measurably better.
And those cognitive benefits did not fade with time.
‘We actually saw [those effects] one month later,’ Gee said. ‘And there’s some evidence that [they] may exist six months later.’
Of course, for as good as an impromptu meet-cute with a new dog in a public park or at school might be, their health benefits pale in comparison to the documented rewards of true blue dog ownership.
Another comprehensive analysis of peer-reviewed scientific studies, this one published by the American Heart Association, found that dog ownership was linked to a 33 percent drop in the risk of death for heart attack survivors who lived alone.
The so-called ‘meta-analysis,’ which took in data from 10 studies that all told tracked the health of 3.8 million people, reduced the risk of death for stroke survivors who had previously lived alone by 27 percent.
Over all, the American Heart Association found that living with a dog reduced the chances of death — across the board — by 24 percent and lowered the risk of heart attack deaths by 31 percent.
According to Megan Mueller, a psychology professor at Tufts University, one reason dogs are so good at lowering the stress and improving focus for humans is simply because they’re so good at living in the moment themselves.
‘Animals, and dogs in particular, live in the moment,’ Mueller told NPR. ‘They’re experiencing their environment with wonder and awe all the time.’
‘They’re not bringing up what happened to them earlier in the day or what they’re thinking about in the future,’ she said. ‘They’re there right now.’
Source: Read Full Article