We’ve already talked about how dogs can help improve depression and your overall health, but new research is showing exactly how petting a dog affects our brains, and it’s just one more way that dogs make our lives better. Here’s how petting a dog impacts your brain, along with other ways dogs improve our lives.
How petting a dog impacts your brain
You might think that our brains process all the things we touch in the same way, but it turns out that isn’t true. The brain divides things that touch our skin into three categories: “pleasant,” “neutral,” and “unpleasant.” Each of these is interpreted in different ways in an area of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex. This area of the brain is responsible for a lot of emotional processing, so a pleasant feeling on the skin elicits positive emotions.
Petting a dog also releases serotonin and dopamine, two feel-good chemicals that can improve your mood. Serotonin and dopamine levels are often low in people who suffer from depression, so having a dog can help improve symptoms in depression sufferers.
Better than that, staring in the eyes of a dog you know releases oxytocin – the hormone that helps bond a mother and child.
How dogs affect our bodies
Therapy dogs have been proven to reduce the stress in students taking exams, people grieving the loss of a loved one, children in the hospital, and people traveling through airports. Stress releases cortisol into your bloodstream, a hormone that can cause all sorts of negative impacts on your body. Petting dogs has been shown to decrease the levels of cortisol in your bloodstream.
Having a dog can also reduce your blood pressure and the chances of dying from a heart attack. The companionship provided by a dog can also reduce levels of anxiety.
People who own dogs walk more than people who don’t, which helps prevent obesity and the health risks that go along with it. Walking your dog during the day has the added benefit of getting vitamin D from the sun, and a lack of sunlight has been proven to have a negative effect on people’s mental state.
Growing up with a dog has also been shown to reduce allergies in children by giving their immune system something “harmless” to practice on.
The importance of touch to people
People are programmed to need touch in their lives. Friendly, supportive touch from other humans has been shown to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and release serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin – all the same things that petting a dog does. In the absence of enough human touch, petting a dog can fulfill that deep need we all have to be touched.
We already know how much dogs improve our lives every day, but it’s always cool to see science confirming what dog lovers have known for years – nothing is better than the love of a dog!