The overwhelming feelings of calm and happiness you experience when greeted by your pet aren’t just your imagination. Studies suggest that your furry friend truly improves both your physical and mental health. The companionship and unconditional love pets provide make a bigger difference in our lives than we might realize. From lowering blood pressure to helping improve our relationships, pets are pros at making us happier, healthier human beings.
1. Boost Heart Health
Owning a dog or cat greatly improves your heart health, according to studies by the American Heart Association. Research also shows pets can reduce stress and lower blood pressure, decreasing your risk of cardiovascular disease. Simply taking your dog for a walk or petting your sleeping kitty can reduce your pulse rate, further helping your heart.
Pet owners even have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels, according to research. This also promotes healthy hearts, especially in dog owners who regularly take their furry friends on walks. And scientific reports have shown that people who live alone with a dog have a 33 percent reduced risk of death and 11 percent had reduced risk of heart disease compared to those who lived alone without a fluffy companion.
2. Improve Fitness
Pets, dogs, in particular, have a way of pulling people off the couch and getting them moving. Their energy is contagious. In fact, dog walkers improve their fitness more than people who go on walks with other humans. Dog owners walk more than twice as much as nonowners and are 54 percent more likely to meet daily recommended levels of physical activity. And, it only makes sense, considering how often dogs need to be let out to go to the bathroom and release pent-up energy.
3. Speed Up Rehabilitation
Animals are also used as therapy for the elderly, injured and the mentally ill. Pets are also used in substance abuse recovery programs to help provide therapy for recovering addicts. During sessions, patients interact with animals to reduce stress, build trust and help them cope with negative emotions and develop healthy coping strategies. Birds, horses, pigs, cats, dogs and even alpacas can all be involved in rehabilitation and therapy.
4. Strengthen Relationships
Pets can also improve human-to-human relationships. Pets have the incredible ability to bring people together — and keep them together. Simply taking your dog on a stroll to a local cafe can increase social interaction and promote bonding, and not just between you and your dog. Consider how many times you’ve asked to pet a complete stranger’s pup. Owning a pet, therefore, opens new doors for interaction that otherwise wouldn’t have been available.
Couples that own pets are also more likely to be content in their relationship compared to those who don’t have a cat or dog. Because pets reduce stress and blood pressure, couples who own animals are more likely to experience less conflict and handle disagreements in a more calm and caring manner.
5. Soothe Stress
Simply being in the same room as your pet can profoundly change your brain’s activity and biochemistry. Being close to your animal can invoke a strong sense of peace and calm. These feelings arise due to a release of oxytocin within the body, which then slows breathing and inhibits the production of stress hormones.
Speaking to and caressing your pet can also release beta-endorphins and boost dopamine levels. These neurochemicals are essential to maintaining a high sense of self-worth. Studies have also shown that pet owners enjoy increased serotonin levels, improving their moods and overall sense of happiness.
6. Promote Immunity to Allergies
Contrary to popular belief, pets actually reduce your predisposition to develop allergies. Kids who grow up exposed to a cat or dog have less risk of developing asthma, allergic reactions and even eczema. In one study, researchers examined the association between lifetime dog and cat exposure and allergic sensitivities in a group of nearly 600 children who were observed from birth until age 18. The participants’ families completed surveys each year about their indoor pets and the children were tested for allergic reactions when they reached adulthood.
Researchers found that being exposed to these animals in the first year of life was the determining factor of whether or not a child would grow to be allergic to that animal later in life. Additionally, exposure at other times after that first year did not have any significant protective effect on the children.
Happy Pet, Healthy You
Pets have a way of taking care of you in more ways than you might have expected. But, they’ll only take care of you insomuch as you take care of them in return. Owners who actively play with and love on their animals are more likely to experience the health benefits of owning a pet. Stroke your cat to lower your rate or go on a walk with your dog to boost your energy and make new friends. By creating a bond with your pet, you both can live happy, healthy lives together.