February 16 marks the Chinese New Year and the beginning of the Year of the Dog.
In celebration of man’s best friend, here we round up how your furry friend could give your health a boost in the coming year.
Reduced risk of allergies
Various studies have now found a link between owning a dog and a lower risk of allergies, especially in children.
Research presented last year at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting detailed how children of mothers who had been in daily contact with a dog while pregnant had a lower risk of eczema by age two, and that pet dogs could also have a protective effect against asthma symptoms.
Swedish researchers also found, after looking at more than one million Swedish children, that those who grew up with dogs had a 15% lower risk of asthma.
A small US study found that despite a dog’s snoring, sleeping with your pooch could actually help you get a better night’s sleep.
After recruiting 40 adults and their pets for the study, researchers at the Mayo Clinic found that regardless of the size of the dog, sleeping with a furry friend in the room helped some people sleep better. However, having a dog on the bed didn’t have the same effect, with the team finding that those who let their canines get too cozy did it at the expense of a good night’s sleep.
“Most people assume having pets in the bedroom is a disruption. We found that many people actually find comfort and a sense of security from sleeping with their pets,” commented the study’s author Lois Krahn, M.D.
Improved mental health
After looking at 17 research papers, a UK review published just this week found that having a pet could have a positive effect on managing long-term mental health conditions.
Owning a dog, or other animal such as a cat, goldfish or hamster, was found to be beneficial by helping to distract owners from the stress of having a mental health problem, and helping to alleviate feelings of loneliness. Dogs also had the added benefit of helping owners increase their level of physical activity through walking, which in turn can also help improve mental health and encourage social interaction with other dog owners.
Pet dogs have also been found to help support children when they are stressed, while a 2015 US study found that children who have a dog at home also have a lower level of anxiety than those who do not.
It can be hard to find the motivation to get moving sometimes, but most dog owners will tell you you don’t have much choice if your dog is asking for walks.
Many recent studies have also found that those with a dog do indeed get more exercise, with a dog being especially beneficial for helping seniors to get out of the house and get moving. A UK study published last year found that seniors who walk their dogs clock up around 30 minutes more physical activity a day than non-dog owners, even during the colder, wetter months.
An Australian study also found that dog walkers achieved at least 30 minutes of physical activity on more days per week than non-dog walkers, helping them to meet the 150 minutes of physical activity per week currently recommended for good health.