Many people like to think of a pet as a furry member of the family; one that is fun to be around and provides companionship. However, pets may have even more of an effect on your life than you may think – they can even help you live longer! This is great news considering that, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), about two-thirds of U.S. households own at least one pet. In fact, the U.S. population of pet cats and dogs rose from 40 million in 1967 to over 160 million in 2006. Read on to learn more about the cool health benefits of owning pets.
If you feel stressed out, consider spending time with an animal. Many studies have found that being around or petting a dog can help lower blood pressure. In addition, pet owners have been found to recover more quickly from stress and have milder reactions to stressful events when they were with their pet rather than with a friend or even a spouse.
[Related: 4 Natural Ways To Combat Stress]
It’s not just your blood pressure levels that can decrease due to having a pet – it’s also your cholesterol levels and your triglyceride levels. In addition, your opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities increase when you have a pet. Many studies have found that people who own pets tend to have better overall fitness levels than those who do not. All of these factors lead to a reduced risk of coronary heart disease and other heart-related health issues.
Many studies have found that people who own pets often have a lower risk of developing depression. This may be due to many different factors, mainly that pets help an individual to feel less lonely and isolated while also reducing stress. For instance, it’s often noted that older people with pets are more likely to reach out to others and exhibit less depression. Regardless, health experts agree that pets can have very positive psychological effects, especially among populations that may be at risk for these problems.
Therapy cats and dogs are often utilized in hospitals to helps patients who are recovering from surgery, treatment or illness. The great thing about this is that most pets in these therapy programs don’t even require special training. As long as they are friendly and relatively obedient, they are often accepted and can have a great impact just by being themselves. More focused studies are still needed in this area, but the majority of health professionals agree that they see improvements in mood and reductions in anxiety among patients who interact with therapy pets.
The most obvious example of this health benefit is guide dogs for the blind. These highly trained guide dogs are extremely helpful when it comes to navigating new areas and helping to protect their owners. In addition, more dogs are now being used to help those with other health issues. For instance, dogs are sometimes paired with a child with autism to help them cope with social anxieties. No solid studies have been performed to measure the impact in these situations, but many health professionals and parents have touted these dogs’ benefits, saying they help the child feel calmer and more confident, allowing them to engage more on a social level and provide protection if a child has a tantrum or tries to run away.
Having a dog may be the perfect way to make new friends. Walking a dog is an easy way to strike up conversations and helps you stay connected socially. This isn’t just about having more friends, however. Studies have linked an increased number of social relationships to longer life spans and a reduced risk for mental and physical declines during the later years in life. Try walking your dog in your neighborhood regularly and see just how many more people (and dogs) you get to know.
This is a newer claim, but there is a growing amount of evidence that shows children who are raised with pets are less likely to develop allergies to those types of animals than children who are raised without them. Some studies found this effect to be greater with cats than with dogs. One even suggests that this may extend to other allergies to other things, including dust mites, ragweed and grass.
It’s worth noting that many of these health benefits require further study in order to define a clear link. However, it’s difficult to prove that pets can do things like reduce the risk of depression or create new friendships since many different factors come into play. Fortunately, the health benefits listed above are all backed by lots of research and observations that are widely accepted among health communities.