Every day as I walk my dogs around Prague, I fall in love with the city again and again and again.

There is always a point, no matter the season, no matter the trail I’ve chosen, where we stop (dogs and I), meditate on the priceless beauty around us, and feel infinitely grateful and happy to be present. I am in no doubt whatsoever that recent research on the health benefits of owning a dog is, accurate as I’ve often felt keenly aware of apparent advantages to my health even prior to reading the facts.

Published in Scientific Reports in 2017, a study over a twelve-year period in Sweden strongly suggests that owning a dog reduces significantly the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and reports that this remains true, independant of smoking habits and socioeconomic factors. The protective effect of dog owning was shown to be especially prominent for people living on their own.

These facts alone did not surprise me, as I imagine that the recommended daily exercise quota may be more likely to be met by dog walkers. All will concede that generally, the only other person one meets in a field or forest on a rainy day is a fellow dog-walker ! However, more incredibly, scientific findings now suggest that dog owners have lower reactivity to stress and that following stressful events, they have a faster recovery of blood pressure and other stress-related symptoms.

I mused that this may be due to the fact that no matter what’s going on in one’s life, dogs offer instant comfort and that caring for them responsibly – you have to meet their needs, no matter what. One might say that after a stressful day or event it’s your dog who takes you out for that necessary walk and helps restore the norm.

But wait; the most comforting fact has yet to come. Which dog-owner does not regularly open the front door and grimace at the apparent urgency of vaccuming and washing the floor? Well, relax! According to a 2018 report in Time Health, dogs also have an effect on their owner’s microbiome, providing immune-boosting benefits. Their presence in our homes alters the bacterial flora in house dust which, supposedly in turn alters the microbes in our guts that impact our ability to fight infection. No need to feel guilty ever again as you change from your work shoes and reach for the dog’s lead instead of the mop.

Personally, I will add to these numerous advantages of owning a dog that mapping out walks for my blog, discovering astonishing locations by erring down a new path on an old walk, and venturing further afield at weekends with my four-legged companions, has increased considerably my knowledge of my town and it’s surroundings.

Dog walks with my two loving, energetic, Prague-born Irish setters have introduced me to landscapes that inspired Czech painters; they have led me to hidden gems that many locals tell me they’d never heard of and above all, they remind me daily that I’m fortunate to be living in an astonishingly beautiful European capital.

Thus, dog-walkers, on a daily basis, your furry companions offer you longer, healthier living. They provide stress relief and a remedy to loneliness, boost a more favourable immune system, facilitate meeting people, and lead you to discover the hidden gems of your town, parks, and surrounding countryside.

I say, those dogs deserve a walk!

This is a guest essay by Karen O’Rourke. Want to write for us? Visit www.dogstodaymagazine.co.uk/essay-submission or email editorial@dogstodaymagazine.co.uk

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