Instead of hitting the pavement or the trails alone, going out with your dog may ease your troubled mind.
woman walking her dog to relieve stress
Credit: Gabriel Pevide / Getty

You already know that our canine friends benefit from a good stretch of the legs each day. Now a recent study from Japan suggests that when we walk with our dogs, there's a chance we alleviate our stress more effectively than if we saunter out alone. Study authors Junko Akiyama at the Yamazaki University of Animal Health Technology and Mitsuaki Ohta at Tokyo University of Agriculture provide the science behind this theory. 

In two small sample experiments, they examined 34 pairs of owners and their dogs, evaluating cortisol, oxytocin, and neurological levels: 

  • Before dog walking.
  • 15 minutes into a 30-minute walk.
  • At the immediate end of that walk, and again 10 minutes later.  

Cortisol is often referred to as the 'stress hormone', and oxytocin is one of our 'feel good hormones', similar to dopamine and endorphins. According to Akiyama and Ohta, previous studies indicated that "dog walking sometimes increases the owners' oxytocin levels and may reduce cortisol levels."

But the two-footed and four-pawed participants in this trial didn't really experience any significant hormonal changes.

What actually surprised Akiyama and Ohta is that in nearly half the human respondents, there was a rise in their GABA levels after venturing out with their pups compared to the control group of people walking alone. GABA, or gamma-Aminobutyric acid, is a neurotransmitter that helps reduce excitability in the autonomic nervous system—part of which controls our 'fight or flight' stress response. 

In the study findings, Akiyama and Ohta conclude that "dog walking did not boost the owners' salivary oxytocin or cortisol but did inhibit brain noradrenergic nerves via GABA activity, suggesting stress relief."

This is totally believable for most dog parents who regularly take their pooch for a stroll. Rebecca A. Johnson, PhD, is the director of the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine. In another Daily Paws' article about how pets improve your health, she specifically highlighted stress reduction as one of the primary benefits of pet companionship.

"A powerful neurochemical, oxytocin, is released when we look at our companion animal, which brings feelings of joy," she said. Combined with the natural mood-enhancing benefits of regular movement, you'll double the chances of less stress every time you're out walking, hiking, or even running with your best furry friend.

A simple mood boost just from spending more quality time with our pups? We're all for it—in fact, a quick survey of Daily Paws' editors reveals this to be true! So fasten the leash and head outdoors. It just may be the ahhhhh decompression moment you both need!