Dog Running and Depression

There have been many reported cases of increased figures for depression, mental illness and even suicide in the news recently. Whilst I was listening to one such report, I began to think about the positive health benefits associated with running and also in particular, running with your dog. The two things have both been known to reduce stress and anxiety in people and so by combining both, surely this could be a real recipe for an alternative treatment for people who suffer with depression.

Sarah Griff & Dhillon

Exercise is a great way to relieve stress and anxiety, especially when you’ve got your best friends for company

Now I’m not an expert in depression but it is defined in simple terms as ranging from low spirits in it’s mildest form, to clinical depression which can be life threatening. There are specific organisations who offer help for anyone suffering with depression and the mental health charity Mind has a particularly good website with lots of helpful tips and advice for those who may need it: http://www.mind.org.uk

One thing in common with all of the advice to be found is the benefits associated with exercise, which is known to stimulate endorphins that improve energy levels and mood. Studies have also shown that pets and animals in general can help with depression too. The effect of physical touch with a dog or cat can be soothing, lowering blood pressure and reducing stress hormones.

There are other positive effects of interaction with dogs such as affection which raises self esteem, dogs are known for reducing feelings of isolation and loneliness. Caring for a dog in itself encourages a person to take responsibility, builds relationships, gets a person managing their thoughts and feelings, as they have to think about something which relies on them for health and well being, which can impact on their own health and well being.

Our relationship with dogs has been proved to be beneficial to our health

Our relationship with dogs has been proved to be beneficial to our health

Dogs for Depression is a non profit organisation which has set out to help raise awareness of the benefits to people suffering from depression or anxiety, who may find comfort in the bond that can be formed with a dog. The website provides some (non-scientific) information about how dogs can help someone with depression and offers suggestions for choosing and training a dog as a companion. The website can be found here: http://dogsfordepression.org.uk/home.html

The best combination of the reported benefits from both exercise and interaction with dogs can be found in the sport of canicross and the effect of both these things has been described as underused treatments for depression, with many people unaware of the research which has proved the positive effect they can have on the lives of those suffering with depression.

Running with your dog has benefits associated with both exercise and dog ownership - Photo Courtesy of CaniX and Copyright of Chillpics

Running with your dog has  the benefits associated with both exercise and dog ownership – Photo Courtesy of CaniX and Copyright of Chillpics

Canicross is clearly not a ‘cure’ for depression but I’m of the opinion that if you give someone a responsibility and combine that with a reason to get out and get exercising, then the effect of that on the person can only be a positive one. The biggest limiting factor in getting people out exercising is usually motivation and what better way to motivate someone than to have a goofy, furry face eager to get out and join you!

As I said at the beginning of the blog, I’m not an expert but with the NHS prescribing exercise in cases of mild depression, it would seem logical to me that canicross is a great way to incorporate two factors known to help with depression into a daily routine. What I am sure of is that I always feel my spirits have lifted after getting out with my dogs and I would suggest that anyone struggling with stress or depression try a canicross session to experience the benefits associated with both exercise and interaction with a dog.

There's nothing quite like getting out in the countryside with your dogs for a run!

There’s nothing quite like getting out in the countryside with your dogs for a run!

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5 Good Reasons to Canicross

This is a short blog to give you 5 great reasons to get out canicrossing with your dog – now!

1 – Your dog will be happier and calmer after a canicross run – studies have shown that dog behaviour improves if your dog is getting the correct exercise.

Active dogs are happy dogs!

Active dogs are happy dogs!

2 – You will burn off that cookie you had after lunch – depending on your height, weight and how fast you run, you burn approximately 100 calories per mile, so 2.5 miles burns off the average chocolate bar,  a pint of lager or a glass of wine!

Burn off those cookies!
Burn off those cookies by canicrossing!

3 – Regular exercise prolongs the life of you and your dog – it is well known that by taking 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 times a week you can reduce the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer, this applies to you both.

Regular exercise prolongs life and is fun! Photo courtesy of Colin Roberts

Regular exercise prolongs life and is fun! Photo courtesy of Colin Roberts

4 – You will be improving your mental health – research has shown that running not only triggers the chemical release of endorphins but can boost cognitive function too.

Running can improve mental health! - Photo courtesy of Simon Warwick

Running can improve mental health! – Photo courtesy of Simon Warwick

5 – By canicrossing with your dog, you can achieve two things at once – why go to the gym and then walk the dog when you get home? Canicross is exercise for you and your dog, keeping you both fit, healthy and active.

Canicross is great exercise for both you and your dog and negates the need for the gym and a dog walk! Photo courtesy of Houndscape

Canicross is great exercise for both you and your dog and negates the need for the gym and a dog walk! Photo courtesy of Houndscape