Not only do our pets offer us love, companionship, and protection, they also make us healthier. It’s true—people who experience long-term relationships with companion animals tend to have better health outcomes than their non-pet-owning counterparts. Here we’ll take a look at just a few ways that our pets help us live longer, healthier, happier lives.
Owning a pet is good for your heart—and not just in the poetic sense. Pet ownership has direct benefits to the human cardiovascular system. As a group, pet owners tend to have a lower incidence of hypertension, lower cholesterol levels, and lower triglyceride levels than do people without pets—thus reducing the risk for heart disease. And even among those who have a history of heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular event, recovery rates and outcomes tend to be better among those who have a pet. Also, pet owners tend to get out and exercise more, which confers its own direct benefits to weight loss and heart health.
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The simple act of petting a cat or dog can relieve stress in humans. Companion animals have been shown to reduce heart rate, lower blood pressure, and relieve feelings of anxiety and isolation in their owners. In studies, pets given to people in high-stress occupations have helped people greatly reduce symptoms of prolonged stress—including hypertension, depression, and disturbed sleep patterns. Pets can also raise levels of serotonin and dopamine—two naturally occurring mood-boosting substances associated with pleasure and well-being.
Clinical depression in humans is often associated with isolation and feelings of loneliness. Having a pet can greatly reduce these negative feelings. Pets also give owners a sense of purpose. A companion animal needs care, and providing that care can, in itself, help to reduce the severity of depressive episodes. Also, pets are a great ice-breaker, helping us meet new people in our neighborhoods and communities. Animal-assisted therapy has shown some remarkable positive results in combatting mood disorders in the elderly, the disabled, and the chronically ill.
It may seem counterintuitive, but having a pet in the home can actually help boost immunity and even mitigate allergies in children. It seems that the developing human immune system thrives when it is exposed to a wide variety of mild challenges. So interacting with a pet can not only help kids develop healthy immune responses but can enable their immune systems to distinguish between harmless and potentially harmful microbes, making kids less prone to allergies later in life.
We hope you’ll take some time to share with friends and family the many health benefits associated with pet ownership. And don’t forget to thank the pets in your life!