As most pet owners will probably tell you, a furry friend makes everything better. But did you know that there are real mental and physical health benefits to the companionship of a pet?
Many researchers have found a positive link between health and pet ownership; whether you own a dog, cat, or even a barnyard animal. Barring any allergies, pets can be a great tool to improve mental health, strengthen your immune system and become more physically active.
Pets can relieve stress
It’s no surprise that pets can bring a smile to their owners’ faces, but this joy has also been shown to have concrete health benefits. In one study, pets were found to help alleviate pain associated with chronic migraines or arthritis. The love you feel for your dog or cat means that simply being with them reduces your stress and anxiety, which in turn can ease chronic pain. Researchers compared patients after surgery who attended pet therapy with those who did not, and found those who spent time with animals often required less pain medication.
Studies show that our bodies have a chemical reaction when we pet man’s best friend: blood pressure lowers, heart rate slows, breathing becomes more regular and muscle tension relaxes during and after. These symptoms are all signs of reduced stress, which many people struggle to manage. In another study over a 10-year period, it was found that cat owners were 30 percent less likely to die of a heart attack or stroke than the other participants.
Pets can strengthen the immune system
In the modern age of ultra-cleanliness, some researchers believe that we have killed off too many germs. Modern society’s efforts to avoid germs, like hand sanitizers and bleach wipes, may have contributed to the rise in allergies and asthma – a theory known as the “hygiene hypothesis.”
However, pets can help fight this. Exposure to animal micro-organisms during the first three months of life can kick start the immune system’s development. One study of children who grew up caring for barnyard animals and had lots of pets showed lower rates of asthma compared to children who grew up in more urban areas. If you aren’t living on a farm though, the family dog or cat can still help children build a natural immunotherapy.
Pet owners are more active
It’s hard to stay seated when you have a dog. Research shows that 66 percent of dog owners report that having a dog makes them walk more. People who own and walk a dog are much more likely to meet a recommended target of 150 minutes of exercise per week, as well as having lower risks for high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and arthritis. In one study of dog owners, 60 percent met the federal criteria for regular, moderate, or vigorous exercise while less than a third of non-dog owners meet those standards. Clearly, both ends of the leash benefit from long walks around the park.
Pets can improve social interaction
At a time when 72 percent of Americans report suffering from loneliness, socializing activities like pet ownership can help improve mental well-being and lead to a longer life span. Beyond companionship, pet ownership can help kick start the important benefits of human interaction. Pet ownership can be an instant icebreaker and lead to talking to others to exchange tips and stories, whether during a walk or at the veterinarian’s office.
Owning a pet is a big responsibility. But the time and energy spent taking care of a furry friend ultimately benefits you as well. Stress relief, physical activity, and socialization are all essential to living a long and healthy life.
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