POST 50
05/04/2016 07:20 am ET

The 5 Benefits Of Being A Dog Owner After Age 50

Cat lovers need not apply.
Sean Murphy via Getty Images

Besides being cute and cuddly, man's best friend also offers health benefits to those facing the challenges that can come with age. Read on to find out how a pup can improve your life. 

1. They help fight loneliness. 

According to a 2012 report by the Administration on Aging, around 28 percent of people over age 65 were living alone. With kids having flown the coop, the loss of a partner or even limited mobility, many older adults find themselves dealing with loneliness and isolation. This can lead to depression and other health problems. 

A 2006 study led by St. Louis University found that for lonely nursing home residents, weekly visits with a pup helped lessen feelings of loneliness. Some seniors had the dog to themselves for one-on-one interaction, while others had the chance to play with the dog in groups with other seniors. Those who enjoyed one-on-one time, between one and three times per week, showed a substantial decline in feelings of loneliness. 

2. They keep you active. 

Everyone knows that dogs are typically full of energy and that they love to run around! Whether it's playing fetch, throwing around a Frisbee or taking walks, having a dog can force you to be more active. 

According to a recent study by the University of Missouri, people over 50 who walked their dogs reaped numerous health benefits. They tended to have a lower Body Mass Index, were less likely to experience limitations in their mobility, and had fewer doctor's visits and fewer overall serious health problems. 

Plus, people who walk their dogs are more than a third more likely than non-owners to get their recommended weekly levels of exercise. 

But there's one caveat -- owning a dog and not going for walks can actually be detrimental to your health! So grab the leash and your walking shoes, and get outside.  

3. They help combat stress.

Hard day at work? There's nothing like coming home and having Fido eagerly waiting for you to cuddle up. Besides forcing you to get more exercise, which can help reduce stress, dogs offer a number of other stress-fighting perks. 

Studies have shown that simply petting a dog can help reduce blood pressure. Owning a pet, especially a dog, has also been shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease. (Though it isn't recommended you get a pet just to stave off heart disease.)

Another study found that pet owners (we're talking cat lovers, too) had lower baseline heart rates and performed better on stress tests, compared to their non-pet-owning counterparts. Spending time with your dog is also believed to help release calming, stress-relieving hormones into the body. 

4. They can help you get social. 

Going back to those long walks with Fido, having a pet doesn't just force you to get active it can help you get social, too. Dog owners are part of an unofficial club. Take Fido to the park and he'll likely make friends with the other pups. You in turn will have a conversation starter with the other dog owners. 

5. They make the best companions. 

If you're an empty nester or don't yet have grandkids, having a dog helps give you a sense of purpose and gets you into a routine. Taking care of a dog reminds you to take care of yourself, too. When the dog gets a walk, so do you. And there's nothing better than waking up to those big puppy eyes and feeling needed.

Need a hobby? You can spend your spare time training your dog or teaching him new tricks. 

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