9 Surprising Ways Adopting A Dog Can Instantly Improve Your Health

If you're convinced that having a dog makes you a better person, you're probably right. Study after study has shown the health benefits of having a dog, from reduced stress to improved heart health, to a better social life — the list just goes on and on.

"Bringing a dog into your life can ... help you combat many ailments and disorders," dog experts Chris Kane and Jesse Coslov, co-founders of The Dog Stop, tell Bustle. "Dogs have the ability to help people who deal with anxiety and depression as well as social disorders." But illness or not, they also have a way of simply lifting your mood — which is always important when it comes to having good health.

"Pets enrich our lives in so many ways," Caitlin Ultimo, resident pet expert at Chewy, tells Bustle. "No matter how bad of day you may have had, it’s impossible not to smile when you get that welcome home greeting at the door. A dog will be your constant companion — and won’t care if you lost an account at work or didn’t do the laundry. They ask for very little in return, basic food and shelter, and are so grateful when you surprise them with a special treat or toy." Here are a few more ways having a dog can improve your health, and make your life better.


Easing Depression Symptoms

While you may still need to reach out to friends, a therapist, or possibly even take medication for symptoms of depression, spending time with your dog can certainly help, too.

"Numerous studies have shown that having a pet can lessen the symptoms of depression and help pet parents maintain a positive, optimistic outlook," Elisabeth Geier, writer, teacher, and rescue dog advocate for, tells Bustle. "Of course, this is something us dog guardians know without needing a study to tell us: just think how many times your dogs has sidled up to comfort you while you cry, or made you laugh out loud in the midst of a difficult time. Animal companionship can be an important, even life-saving component of self-care for people experiencing depression and other mood disorders."

Also, having someone to take care of can be inspiring and motivating. Just make sure you know what you're getting into before adopting a dog, since taking care of them requires a lot of time, energy, and effort — which may be difficult to muster if you haven't been feeling well.


Reducing Stress Levels

Having a dog around can mean feeling less stressed, too. "Spending time with an animal increases your level of the hormone oxytocin, often referred to as the 'love hormone,' a neurotransmitter that increases trust and reduces fear," Geier says. "Oxytocin helps you and your dog bond with each other and relax, so petting your dog isn’t just pleasant, it’s physiologically beneficial to you both."


Improving Heart Health

Again, due to their incredible ability to ease stress — and, you know, make life 100 times better — adopting a dog can even mean improving your heart health.

"According to the American Heart Association, another benefit of owning a dog (or any pet), [is it] can help lower your risk of heart disease in large part because having a dog causes you to be more active, and physical activity is the best thing for your heart," Geier says.

But there's also the social aspect, too. "Dogs also help improve heart healthy by being loyal, loving companions," she says. "In a 2009 study conducted at the UCLA Medical Center, heart failure patients who came in contact with therapy dogs for 12 minutes a day demonstrated notably reduced blood pressure, heart rate, and anxiety. As the lead scientist for the study notes, 'Dogs are a great comfort. They make people happier, calmer, and feel more loved,' all of which lead to overall better health."


Reminding You To Exercise

Going off of that, dogs can serve as a great motivation to get outside, and snag a healthy amount of exercise. "Dogs need exercise, and for many of us, walking the dog is an important part of our own fitness routine," Geier says. "It’s not just your cardiovascular health that benefits from a few brisk walks every day. Regular dog walks can also improve your muscle tone, bone health, flexibility, and lung capacity." No fancy gym membership required.

"To harness the most physical benefit for you and your dog, you should take at least one 30-minute walk, or two brisk 15-minute walks, per day," Geier says. That'll keep your dog happy, and make you healthier, too.


Making It Easier To Socialize

Nothing can win you friends quite like strollin' down the street with a dog. And those social interactions can truly do wonders for your health.

"Dogs are a perfect icebreaker topic," Colleen Demling, canine behaviorist at Dogtopia, tells Bustle. "Likewise, they encourage us owners to get outside and go for walks, go to parks, and play. Ever met a fellow dog owner out and about and suddenly felt like you were besties? All of these factors increase our socialization and interaction with others (both two and four-legged friends)." And when it comes to wellness, being social is just as important, in many ways, as exercise.


Easing Feelings Of Anxiety

If you have anxiety, having a dog by your side can be incredibly helpful. "Dogs take us out of our own heads," dog expert Sandy Weaver tells Bustle. "They require care, attention and training. As we fulfill their needs, we're focusing outside of ourselves, away from our own problems. We get into problem-solving mode instead of staying stuck in problem mode." And that can be such a relief. Also, there's nothing more soothing at the end of the day then a good cuddle session with the pup.


Improving Your Sense Of Well-Being

Dogs can improve your overall sense of wellbeing, too. "Dogs are always happy to see us when we return home, lifting our mood after a long day at work," Alexandra Bassett, professional dog trainer and owner at Dog Savvy Los Angeles, tells Bustle. "For people that live alone, having a dog to come home to can take the edge off loneliness and can often add a social element to their life that would exist otherwise."


Sharpening Your Mind

Training your dog can be a mental exercise for yourself, too. "They can ... increase mental agility through training," Erin Askeland, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA,Pet Behaviorist and Training Manager of Camp Bow Wow, tells Bustle. "When you work with your pup to learn new tricks, you work your brain too!"


Keeping You On Schedule

Nothing can keep you on schedule quite like a dog staring at you in the morning, willing you out of bed. "Dogs are creatures of habit and help keep their owners on a schedule and routine of feeding time, exercise time, play time, and cuddle time," Askeland says. "Schedules can decrease stress by creating a good home and work-life balance and maintaining set expectations throughout the day. Having a dog relying on you for its daily needs also increases a person’s sense of responsibility and commitment, which can translate into other areas of [their life]."

For all of these reasons and more, having a dog really can improve your health. Whether it's boosting your mood, giving you a reason to go outside, or simply keeping you on schedule, your dog's got your back.