Whether it’s a cat, dog, horse or iguana, pets can improve your overall health and happiness. We know they enrich our lives in many ways, but you may be surprised to learn how many health benefits our furry friends encourage. Research suggests that the bond and companionship pets offer contribute to improved mental health, not to mention the exercise you get from walks and playtime. Read on to learn the many ways your pet can boost your health.
- They Boost Fitness – There is no refusing an excited dog that wants to go for a walk. Perhaps even more interesting is that dog walkers improved their fitness more than people who walked with other people, according to a University of Missouri study. Another study found that dog owners walked on average 300 minutes a week, while people who didn’t own dogs only walked 168 minutes a week. The verdict is in: Owning a pet will drastically improve your fitness whether you intended it to or not!
- They Cheer You Up – Dogs really are our best friends. The unconditional love and acceptance we get from pets can promote feelings of therapeutic and psychological well-being. Research shows pet owners tend to have better overall well-being than non-owners. It’s hard to focus on negative thoughts when your pet is giving you love and affection. The positive energy, pure joy, and presence that pets bring are very powerful.
- They Lower Cholesterol – If you have a dog, those daily walks help to keep your cholesterol numbers down. Plus, a survey by the National Heart Foundation of Australia found that people who own pets, especially men, tend to have lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
- They Help Calm Stress – Being in the same room as your pet can actually reduce stress hormone levels, which has a calming effect. Other neurotransmitters, such as oxytocin, are released just from looking at animals, which brings feelings of joy. There has been much research around veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the powerful effects of animals. Veterans who have service dogs experience a reduction in symptoms of PTSD and anxiety, research shows.
- They Prevent Allergies in Children – Children who are exposed to pets before the age of 6 months are less likely to develop allergic diseases, hay fever, and eczema as they get older. The theory is if exposed to dander and allergens at an earlier age, we may be less reactive to them over time. In the first year of life, babies who are exposed to dogs in the household are less likely to have allergies, asthma, and upper respiratory infections. So if you want your kids to have stronger immune systems, have a pet or two in the home.
- They Ease Chronic Pain – Petting animals actually releases endorphins, which are our body’s natural pain-relieving, feel-good hormones. Many hospitals use service dogs to visit patients because of the positive results. For example, patients who had a visit from an animal reported less pain after just one visit. A study published in the American Journal of Critical Care also found that patients hospitalized for heart failure had improved cardiovascular functioning after a visit from a dog.
- They Improve Relationships – Perhaps the relationship with our pet can teach us a thing or two about human relationships. Having a deep bond with a pet can help you feel more connected in other relationships and to your community. Caring for a pet can also increase your ability to be empathetic, which is an important skill in other relationships. When we can practice feeling deep unconditional love for another living being, it helps us open up to interpersonal relationships.
- They Boost Self-esteem – Research has found that pet owners have higher self-esteem, feelings of belonging, and a sense of meaning than those who don’t own pets. This may be because animals are completely nonjudgmental, don’t have an agenda, and they don’t care what you look like or how you behave. They love unconditionally. The fact that pets love you no matter what can boost self-esteem and confidence.
To find a physician affiliated with Southern California Hospital at Culver City, click here.