By: Dr. Courtney A. Campbell, DVM, DACVS
The crisp morning air of a Connecticut autumn was like a jolt to my senses. I had just stepped outside to treat myself to a sunrise. It was early but I always looked forward to jump starting my day by walking my dog Fayola. Fayola was a mixed breed (half-Labrador and half-cuteness) and she was my motivation, my inspiration, and my workout buddy all in one. Her passion for life was unparalleled and her zeal for exercise was contagious.
Every morning, she also looked forward to kick starting her day with a vigorous walk and pretending like she couldn’t, or wouldn’t, exercise without me. If it wasn’t for her, my mornings wouldn’t have been the same. The more I reflect on the memories of having her in my life, I have a greater understanding that pet care is truly a form of self-care.
My focus as a veterinarian is to improve the health of animals every day. However, the power and influence that pet health has on human health is impressive. For years, pet parents and animal lovers have been aware of the health benefits of pet ownership; however, studies are validating these well-known truths.
Humans enjoy the company of pets when getting physically fit in a variety of ways. The Journal of Physical Activity & Health found that dog owners are more likely to reach their fitness goals than those without canine companions. Furthermore, researchers at Michigan State found that dog owners are 34 percent more likely to fit in 150 minutes of walking per week than non-dog owners. The same study also found that owning a dog promotes health and fitness even after you take your pup for a stroll, increasing leisure-time physical activity by 69 percent.
The American Heart Association celebrated the health benefits of dog ownership with the publication of a large study which concluded that pets may help their owners get more exercise, which may lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and boost happiness. Not only that, pets at work may help reduce stress, increase productivity and improve employee satisfaction, teamwork and collaboration.
The American Heart Association also found that pet ownership may lead to a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. In addition to contributing to a healthy heart, pet parents tended to live longer than non-pet owners and dog parents are more likely to fit in the recommended level of physical activity than those who didn’t have a dog. They also found that pets added an element of companionship – letting you know you are not alone and providing social support – an important factor in helping you stick with healthy habits.
The pandemic has heightened the necessity of self care. While millions were under quarantine and shelter-in place orders, there was a renewed interest in finding activities that deliberately improved our mental, emotional, and physical health. An emphasis was placed on taking care of ourselves and people began to adopt pets in droves.
News of the mass uptick in pet adoptions soon became the national conversation. Multiple national news broadcasts featured shelters, specifically a shelter in Palm Beach County Florida, which, for the first time in their history, had their shelter emptied. Just as critical as food and shelter, dog adoption became the ultimate source of comfort during the quarantine.
Puppies have a remarkable way of refreshing our mind and improving our mood which is critical in this challenging year. According to the Human Animal Bond Research Institute Survey, 74% of pet owners reported mental health improvements from pet ownership and 75% of pet owners reported a friend’s or family member’s mental health has improved from pet ownership.
Pets can also mitigate the feeling of social isolation and loneliness. In a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, they found consistent evidence that pet owners were less lonely, exhibited greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, were more conscientious and we're more socially outgoing. Interestingly, their research did not find evidence that the type of pet mattered. People were able to emotionally connect to a variety of animal species.
We recognize exercise partners as motivational, inspirational, and able to hold us accountable. For instance, a workout buddy may push the intensity or simply the consistency of your workouts. By having your pet as your workout partner, the attributes go beyond the human benefits.
As our pet’s caretakers we are the stewards of their health and fitness. For many, being the primary custodian of your pet’s health adds an elevated level of purpose. That sense of purpose can be linked with a better physical and mental health.
When you exercise together, you and your pets are sharing a common goal towards improved health. In this sense, the exercise is more than just for you and your health, it is for your pet’s health as well, and you get enjoy the environment around you, which is the beauty of the One Health doctrine
Let us know how you are exercising with your pet this week!