When you have looked deeply into the eyes of a baby, you likely have experienced a rush of good feelings and an intense connection. Research studies have shown that while this is happening, our bloodstream is being flooded with the hormone oxytocin, sometimes called the hormone of love.
Japanese researchers have shown the same effect can occur when we look deeply into the eyes of a pet dog, and this may be one reason owning a pet—particularly a dog—is good for our health.
Owning a dog confers multiple health benefits, including a lower risk of heart disease, more controlled blood pressure, an improved immune system, and a lowered risk of depression. Children who are raised in households with dogs get sick less. And, as they are often forced outside for walks, people with dogs tend to get more exercise.
As we recently posted, living alone can be a health risk, and owning a pet may counteract some or all of that risk. Having a loyal dog around may give otherwise solitary people the companionship and health benefits that they would gain from living with other people.
The Japanese research suggests how this might happen. They studied 30 people along with their pet dogs, and all 60 had their oxytocin levels measured (via urine tests). Then they had the dogs and owners play for 30 minutes, and again at the end of the 30-minute period, their oxytocin levels were measured again.
The results, published in the April 17, 2015 issue of Science, showed that if there was at least 5 minutes of eye contact between the owner and their dog, that the oxytocin levels in the dog rose 130 percent, while the oxytocin rise in the human was 200%. The dog-human pairs with the longer periods of eye contact had the biggest rises in oxytocin.
One other part of their study studied 5 wolf-human pairs, and these were wolves who had been raised in human homes their entire lives. They found no rise in oxytocin levels as seen with dogs. So there seems to be something special about dogs. [The researchers also noted that collecting urine from a wolf was not so simple:]
Certainly oxytocin is a special hormone for humans. When our oxytocin level rises, our feelings of love, trust, and nurturing increase and our stress level falls. Oxytocin helps mothers bond to their babies, and, as an interesting side note, other recent research suggests that married men with higher levels of oxytocin may be less likely to seek sexual relations outside of their marriage.
So on many levels, whether or not we live alone or with others, owning a dog is something we should consider. The right dog in your life can improve your health, and enrich your life.
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Esta postagem também está disponível em: Portuguese (Brazil)