Last week I talked about the value of growing up with a pet. But pets aren’t only great for kids. They’re great for adults too.
Here are 5 reasons why.
- They lessen depression and anxiety
Having a pet has been shown to reduce depression and anxiety in their owners. If you’ve ever spent any time with an animal you know that their behavior can put a smile on your face. Their love and affection can help you feel better about life, and they just generally calm the nerves.
Animal-assisted therapy is proof of this. Dogs are often used in hospitals and nursing homes to reduce anxiety in patients. They’re also used to help veterans overcome post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dog owners who suffer from depression often say that getting out for a walk with their dog makes them feel better. Having a dog forces someone who might not otherwise want to leave their house to get up and go.
- They improve cardiovascular health
The largest studies that have been done to date about the health benefits of pet ownership relate to cardiovascular health.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) have done extensive studies that show that pet ownership lowers blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, for overall improved cardiovascular health.
If you own a pet, stressful situations aren’t as stressful on your body as they are to non-pet owners. In one study referenced by WebMD, stockbrokers with high blood pressure that adopted pets had lower blood pressure readings in stressful situations than non-pet owners.
So your pet doesn’t even have to be present to positively impact your health. Even away from a pet, pet owners have lower blood pressure than non-pet owners in stressful situations.
- They boost the human immune system and reduce the incidence of allergies
Anyone who’s ever had a pet knows they aren’t always the cleanest. The added dirt and allergens a pet brings into your home can boost the human immune system. And as I said in last week’s post, growing up with a dog reduces the likelihood of allergies and asthma in kids.
- They can help you feel less lonely and encourage socialization
Pets are particularly beneficial for people who live alone. Having a pet can help someone living by themselves to feel less lonely. They’re a companion, someone to talk to—even if they don’t talk back.
Getting out for walks with your dog leads to more conversations with people on the street than you might have walking by yourself. And walking a dog can foster connections and maybe new friendships with other people walking their dogs.
This is a real benefit for the elderly. It’s a fact that people who have more social connections tend to live longer, and experience slower mental and physical decline.
Having a pet companion is great for your spirit, plain and simple.
- They force you to get more exercise, reduce the occurrence of obesity and improve mobility.
This is true for a pet that gets you outside. If you have a dog, you have to walk it. They need exercise…and so do you.
The good news is several NIH studies show that walking your dog regularly really does reduce your likelihood of being obese, compared to people who don’t have dogs, or people who have dogs but aren’t responsible for walking them.
These studies also show that people who walked their dogs, walked faster and for longer periods each week than those who didn’t walk regularly with a dog.
Older dog owners who walked regularly had greater mobility in their homes as a result of their improved fitness. And greater mobility means fewer falls, and an ability to stay independent.
If an elderly person can care for a dog, there’s no better companion.
The human-animal bond is special. This remarkable connection goes back at least 12,000 years. A human skeleton that dates back to that period was found in Israel a few years ago. The skeleton was found with its hand resting on the skeleton of a 6-month-old wolf pup.
“The bond between animals and humans is part of our evolution, and it’s very powerful,” says Dr. Ann Berger, a physician and researcher at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
Although this relationship has existed for eons, the scientific study of the human-animal bond is in its infancy.
Pet owners already know the blessing of having a pet. The many studies that are going on now, and those that will take place in the future, will only confirm what we already know about the positive impact they have on our health.
Have you personally experienced any of these health benefits of pet ownership? Please share your story in the comment section above. We’d love to hear your thoughts.