January is ‘walk your dog month’ and at Pet Alliance Europe we thought it would be a good idea to remind our readers of the huge advantages associated with getting out and about with a pet. There are obvious benefits for your physical health but also for your mental health. Hanging out with pets keeps your body – and your brain – active!
Exercising with pets benefits our health
It’s well documented that dog owners enjoy the health benefits of more frequent walking than those without a dog. The odds of dog owners meeting physical activity recommendations are four times greater than for non-dog owners. Older dog owners benefit from an additional and significant 22 minutes per day.
The specific health gains of this additional exercise vary from owner to owner. However, we know there are well-reported cardiovascular benefits. A survey of almost 11,000 people in the US linked pet ownership (especially dogs) to increased physical activity and improved outcomes after major cardiovascular events. Another massive study of 3.4 million people in Sweden found that dog ownership had a dramatic effect on people who live alone, cutting the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 36%. In households with more people, the presence of a dog was still linked to lowered deaths from heart disease (15%).
The routine of getting outside for fresh air also has a positive impact on your mental health. Physical activity releases endorphins in the brain that energise you and create positive feelings. It reduces stress, boosts your mood, and increases mental energy. When you add in the companionship of a playful dog, it’s even better! The company of a dog on walks has been shown to boost social interaction and confidence. One study among 80 adult strangers showed that the presence of a dog encouraged friendly behaviour when the pet owner asked for help.
All kinds of pet interactions count
However, the rewards of pet interaction are not limited to dog walking. Spending time playing with your cat or hamster, watching fish in an aquarium or wild birds feeding – have all been linked to improved mental health. Studies show that pets in general make us feel more relaxed, reducing depression and loneliness. To read more about the health benefits, see our booklet, which summarises huge amounts of research in this area.
Pets need exercise too
Having talked about your physical and mental health, we should also remember how important it is for your pets to get the right amount of exercise. Research among vets suggests that obesity is a big problem with 51% of dogs, 44% of cats and 29% of small mammals classed as overweight or obese.
Overfeeding, unsuitable table scraps and insufficient exercise are the major causes of overweight pets. In the same way that excess weight can cause us additional problems, pets can suffer too. Pet obesity can contribute to health issues such as arthritis, heart disease and cancer. Sadly, it can also shorten their lifespan.
Exercise is important to keep your pet content and to strengthen the bond between the owner and the pet too. Whatever activity you choose to practice with your pet, remember that the type and amount of exercise should be tailored according to the individual pet.
This year, we hope that as many of you as possible can get out and about – or invest more time interacting – with your pets. In addition to boosting your physical and mental health, it will keep your pets stay healthy and happy too.