Man's – And Your Health's – Best Friend

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Your dog probably thinks the most important task he performs for you all day is frightening away the UPS deliveryman (who, your pet is certain, would slaughter everyone inside the house should he make it to the porch). But in fact, medicine is pretty clear that your dog provides numerous real and clear health benefits (that look on the deliveryman's face is just a bonus...)

For one, they are great exercise buddies. Dogs need to be walked several times a day, which is several times a day more than you mighthave been inclined to get up and stretch your legs. The National Institute of Health (NIH) did a study of more than 2,000 adults, which found that dog owners responsible for walking their pups are less likely to be obese than dog owners who pass the duty off to someone else or those who do not own dogs at all.  Another study supported by NIH followed more than 2,500 older adults, ages 71-82, for 3 years. Those who regularly walked their dogs walked faster and for longer time periods each week than others who didn’t walk regularly. Older dog walkers also had greater mobility inside their homes than others in the study.

Your legs are not the only muscles your dogs can affect. Both the Centers for Disease Control and the NIH have conducted heart-related studies on people who have pets. The findings showed that pet owners exhibit decreased blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels -- all of which can ultimately minimize their risk for having a heart attack down the road. One NIH-funded study looked at 421 adults who had suffered heart attacks. A year later, the scientists found, dog owners were significantly more likely to still be alive than were those who did not own dogs, regardless of the severity of the heart attack. These benefits are thought to be connected with pets' tendency to help reduce or at least control their owners' overall stress levels.

Research has also determined that children who grow up in a home witha dog are less likely to develop allergies.

It's not just a physical boost, either. Therapists and researchers have reported that children with autism are sometimes better able to interact with dogs, and this may help in their interactions with people.

Of course, dogs provide unconditional love and afford their owners a sense of purpose. This is a not inconsiderable perk for people suffering from depression and loneliness. Many hospitals offeranimal-assisted therapy because of the clear benefit it provides to the sick and elderly.