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.
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.
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.
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.