The more time I spend with my dog, the more I notice I’m slightly less stressed. Sure, it’s not like hanging out with my pup actually solves any real-life problems. Still, something about seeing how happy he gets when we go for a walk leaves me feeling more serene. And according to a new study, I’m not just imagining it — walking your dog is a proven stress relief method!
Since almost 40 percent of American households include dogs, it’s safe to say having a four-legged friend in our lives is a priority for a lot of us. People adopt dogs for different reasons, but whether they’re pets, service animals, or working dogs, it’s clear dogs are an important part of our lives. It’s no wonder then that scientists are interested in how owning a dog affects our lives.
Two Experiments, Two Results
For this study, researchers wanted to see what impact walking a dog had on people’s moods and stress levels. They conducted two different experiments: The first one compared the levels of oxytocin — the so-called “love hormone” — and cortisol, the stress hormone, while participants walked their dogs, versus when they walked alone. Saliva samples were collected from both the owners and the dogs to test the hormone levels. In the end, this one didn’t have much to show. The “love” and “stress” levels in the saliva weren’t affected by a walk together as opposed to a walk alone.
The second experiment, however, did yield some interesting results. This method studied brain neural activity through the saliva samples by measuring the levels of 3-Methoxy-4-hydroxyphenylglycol (MHPG). This is a metabolite of norepinephrine, which means it helps break down the stress hormone norepinephrine. The results showed that participants who walked their dog had “clearly reduced” levers of MHPG in their saliva. Less MHPG meant that there was less stress to break down.
Let’s go for a walk!
That’s a roundabout way of saying what dog owners already know to be true: Walking your dog really does help with stress relief — and now a scientific study has backed it up! If you’ve been feeling more stress in your life, it might be time to make a neighborhood walk with your dog a regular occurrence. They’ll be thrilled — and you’ll feel better, too.
(Don’t have a dog? Try your local animal shelter! They’re often looking for volunteers to walk dogs throughout the day.)
This article originally appeared on our sister site, First for Women.