They bring us joy, fun, and companionship, but did you know that your furry friend can also improve your emotional as well as your physical health?
Pets, especially dogs and cats can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, ease loneliness, encourage exercise and playfulness, and even improve your cardiovascular health. Caring for an animal can help children grow up more secure and active. Pets also provide valuable companionship for older adults. Perhaps most importantly, though, a pet can add real joy and unconditional love to your life.
Here are ten ways that our pets can improve our health!
- Getting more exercise.Taking a dog for a walk, hike, or run are fun and rewarding ways to fit healthy daily exercise into your schedule. Studies have shown that dog owners are far more likely to meet their daily exercise requirements—and exercising every day is great for the animal as well. It will deepen the connection between you, eradicate most behavior problems in dogs, and keep your pet fit and healthy.
- Providing companionship. Companionship can help prevent illness and even add years to your life, while isolation and loneliness can trigger symptoms of depression. Caring for an animal can help make you feel needed and wanted and take the focus away from your problems, especially if you live alone. Most dog and cat owners talk to their pets; some even use them to work through their troubles. And nothing beats loneliness like coming home to a wagging tail or purring cat!
- Can Help you meet new people.Pets can be a great social lubricant for their owners, helping you start and maintain new friendships. Dog owners frequently stop and talk to each other on walks, hikes, or in a dog park. Pet owners also meet new people in pet stores, clubs, and training classes.
- Reducing anxiety.The companionship of an animal can offer comfort, help ease anxiety, and build self-confidence for people anxious about going out into the world. Because pets tend to live in the moment—they don’t worry about what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow—they can help you become more mindful and appreciate the joy of the present.
- Add structure and routine to your day.Many pets, especially dogs, require a regular feeding and exercise schedule. Having a consistent routine keeps an animal balanced and calm—and it can work for you, too. No matter your mood—depressed, anxious, or stressed—one plaintive look from your pet, and you’ll have to get out of bed to feed, exercise, and care for them.
- Providing sensory stress relief.Touch and movement are two healthy ways to quickly manage stress. Stroking a dog, cat, or other animal can lower blood pressure and help you quickly feel calmer and less stressed.
- Help you to lose weight. A year-long study at the Wellness Institute at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Chicago, found that walking an overweight dog helped both the animals and their owners shed unwanted pounds. Researchers found that the dogs provided support in similar ways to a human exercise buddy but with greater consistency and without any negative influence.
- Lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease. People with pets have lower blood pressure in stressful situations than those without pets. One study even found that when people with borderline hypertension adopted dogs from a shelter, their blood pressure declined significantly within five months.
- Combat depression. You’ve probably realized that your pets can make you smile when you’re just feeling a bit down, but even those of us suffering with diagnosed depression can reap these mood-lifting benefits. The National Institute of Mental Health recognizes animal-assisted therapy as a treatment for depression and other mood disorders because pets can have a positive effect on depression in a number of ways. A pet requires its owner to remain active and can help him, or her feel less isolated from society. A pet also remains a trusted companion, even when its owner withdraws from friends and family.
- Help you find meaning and joy in life. This is especially a benefit of pet ownership for the health of older folks. As you age, you’ll lose things that previously occupied your time and gave your life purpose. You may retire from your career, or your children may move far away. Caring for a pet can bring pleasure and help boost your morale, optimism, and sense of self-worth. Choosing to adopt a pet from a shelter, especially an older pet, can add to your sense of fulfillment, knowing that you’ve provided a home to a pet that may otherwise have been euthanized.