Sponsored

Aging Well: How dog ownership benefits your physical and mental health

Owning a dog can not only make you happier and more fit, it increases opportunities to feel social and engaged with your neighborhood.

This biweekly column is sponsored by The Mather in Tysons, Virginia, a forward-thinking Life Plan Community for those 62 and better.

“Happiness is a warm puppy,” according to Peanuts creator Charles Schulz. It turns out that science has proven him right; research has revealed that owning a dog offers many concrete benefits, including positive impacts on physical, mental, and emotional health.

That’s good news for dog owners and their canine-appreciative neighbors who are planning a move to The Mather, a Life Plan Community for those 62 and better that’s opening in Tysons in early 2024. The Mather will be a pet-friendly community, with an adjacent dog park among its many green space amenities.

One future resident of The Mather, who asked to go by M.O.B. for Mother of Barlow, says, “The ability to own pets at The Mather was absolutely instrumental to us. We took our terrier Barlow on a walk around The Mather’s immediate vicinity before we committed ourselves. We wanted to check out the walking opportunities for him and for us.” The Mather’s nearly three acres of private and public green space links to other green spaces, creating a dog-walker’s paradise.

Lou Marotta and his husband Mike Fullwood will move to The Mather with their 100-pound Scottish deerhound Elvis next year. “We’re excited about The Mather. We’ve met all our neighbors on the 27th floor, and Elvis is already the floor’s mascot,” says Lou. Mike points out, “That’s a good example of how dogs have a unifying effect.”

That unifying effect is just one example of the powerful benefits that dogs offer us humans:

Dogs Can Brighten Your Mood

People are hard-wired for connection, and research has proven that simply petting a dog can increase oxytocin levels, a hormone that lowers blood pressure, helps reduce fear and anxiety, and improves alertness.

“That steady companionship enhances your life immeasurably. Ultimately, it’s the emotional role this companion has in your life,” says M.O.B.

Dogs Can Keep You Physically Active

One obvious benefit of having a dog is that it keeps you active. Walking a dog ensures regular physical activity — a key component in staying healthy and independent, boosting mood, and even benefiting the brain. “We walk a minimum of four to six miles a day. He’s got lots of energy!” says M.O.B.

Elvis gets four walks a day. In the past year, he, Lou, and Mike moved from a home in the Virginia countryside to an apartment in Washington, D.C., in preparation for their move to The Mather, and the trio is exploring city life. “We live within walking distance of the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument,” says Mike. “Earlier today, I walked him around the entire Tidal Basin.”

Dogs Strengthen Social Ties

Dog walkers get much more interaction with neighbors than others, as they meet, greet, and talk to those they pass. “Having a dog makes you interact with others more. Being in a new town, we’ve made friends taking Elvis in and out of our building,” says Lou. Mike adds, “Elvis is more noticeable than many dogs, so people are inclined to stop and talk to us.”

M.O.B. enjoys the enthusiasm of others who meet Barlow: “Who doesn’t like to have strangers talk about how wonderful your pet is? There’s a joy to having someone praise your dog.” And she points out a unique aspect of socializing with people on her walks: “When you’re in the company of a dog, you’re identified as a dog person; it’s a welcome sign to interact with you. It fosters community, and the sharing of resources and information with other dog owners,” she says.

Australian researchers found that dog walkers can have a positive effect on their whole community, making community members more likely to interact on the street, meet each other, and even exchange favors with neighbors.

Dogs Can Keep You Alert & Engaged

Petting a dog or cat also strengthens sensations such as touch. Something as simple as touching a pet sustains psychological well-being by stimulating the senses each day. Studies have shown that people also exhibit improved alertness when caring for a pet.

“A dog demands love — and they demand it from you; they need it in order to thrive,” says Lou. “I think that’s good for us as we age — to have something that needs us, another being that we have to care about.”

The Mather in Tysons, VA, for those 62 and better, is a forward-thinking Life Plan Community that defies expectations of what senior living is supposed to be. It opens in early 2024.