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The Ultimate Health Promotion Strategy: Owning a Dog

The Ultimate Health Promotion Strategy: Owning a Dog

CaresseWhen my sister and I were kids, Melanie had more talent than I did in just about everything – except maybe perseverance, because with her ability level, she really didn’t need that much perseverance. (No worries, I don’t have a complex, she just had an easier time than most.) She was such a fast learner that school was boring to her. But at some point when she was in 5th grade, completely unexpectedly, her marks started to decline. Her mood got in a slump. She couldn’t find her usual enthusiasm.

Melanie’s teacher suggested that our parents get a dog, because it could help her in many ways. As shown in these 10 health benefits of owning a pet, the smart lady definitely knew what she was talking about. Just a few weeks after welcoming Caresse (means hug in French) into our family, my sister’s grades, attitude, and life were back on track.

Like all of you wellness leaders, I try to be thorough in my study of what helps people attain and maintain robust health. So today, I’d like to spend a few minutes looking at the many health benefits of owning a dog. Have you ever thought about it?

Research reported by Johns Hopkins Health Alerts shows that in healthy relationships, dog ownership can help reduce the stress hormone cortisol while boosting the good guys oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine. Those of you who have read the SaS book will recognize that this improved biochemical activity will then help regulate our sleep by reducing the likelihood of insomnia. It will also help us keep our food intake in check by reducing cravings. It will help us improve our moods, because less cortisol, more serotonin, and more oxytocin make us feel less irritable, friendlier, and calmer.

Dog ownership is also often associated with increased exercise. Michigan State University researchers reported that 60% of dog owners that take their pets for regular walks meet federal criteria for regular exercise. Nearly 1 in 2 dog walkers exercise an average of 30 minutes a day at least five days a week. Only about 1 in 3 of people that don’t own dogs get that much regular exercise.

It gets better. Owning a dog is also associated with improved blood pressure and cardiovascular health, lower cholesterol and triglycerides as well as decreased anxiety. Maybe as a result or maybe on top of all these benefits, dog owners also tend to live longer.

Research mentioned in the 10 tips also shows that dog ownership can help child development, just as Caresse did for my sister. So I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on what man’s best friend can do for your clients who need a hand — or maybe 4 feet — to build better sleep, food, mood, and exercise habits. Thoughts?

  • Kate Atkin

    I totally relate to your messages in this post and am pleased to hear the science is backing up the anecdotal evidence. My sister has just got a dog for my 16 year old niece and it’s helping greatly. My husband is currently walking the Wales Coast Path for charity with our springer spaniel Poppy to raise awareness of mental health (see, and I’m not walking nearly as far now Poppy’s not at home!


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MJ Shaar – in 20 seconds

MJ is one of the most sought-after experts blending positive psychology and health promotion. She spent over 15 years coaching, teaching, speaking, researching and testing smart health habits. Marie-Josée Shaar received her undergrad at McGill University in Organizational Behavior, followed by a Master of Applied Positive Psychology at University of Pennsylvania. She's certified as a Wellness Culture Coach, a Personal Trainer, and a Nutrition and Wellness Consultant.

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