Studies are continually showing that pets aren’t just fun to have around the house – there is health-boosting power among our furry, scaly or feathered friends. Everything from increasing activity to making you happier, pets have a wonderful impact on your psyche.
It’s no surprise that owning a pet – particularly a dog – makes you more active, but the list of health benefits that come with that might surprise. Older adults who own a dog have a lower body mass index, make fewer visits to the doctor and do more exercise. Research also shows that the stronger your bond with your pooch, the more likely you are to walk, and spend longer walking.
With all those walks, pets tend to be good for your heart too. The American Heart Association undertook a study about how owning pets affects your chance of developing cardiovascular disease, including conditions that affect your heart and blood, such as stroke or coronary heart disease. Researchers found that having a pet – a dog, in particular – is probably associated with reducing your chances of developing CVD, though they were careful not to overstate this. In a follow-up study researchers again looked at how having a dog or cat affected your health, and this time felines came up trumps. They found that having a cat is associated with a reduced chance of dying from cardiovascular disease, especially strokes. This shows that it’s not just the exercise associated with having a pet that helps you – the stress relief and companionship also have very physical benefits.
Pets make you more sociable. Even though you might feel grumpy sometimes and think you like quiet, humans are social animals. It’s important for our physical and mental health to have contact with other people – and our four-legged friends are a brilliant way to get you talking. Pets increase the number of off-chance chats you have and help people trust you and are brilliant ice-breakers. Social isolation is a huge health problem, particularly for the elderly. In fact, social isolation can increase your chances of dying early. So, what may seem like a trivial chat over the garden wall when looking for your cat or in the park when walking your dog, can be hugely significant for your mental and physical health.
Pets stop loneliness. It’s not just that pets help you build a wider social network – many people have pets as companions. They make you happy, give you a routine and are great company – all of which adds your quality of life and boosts your everyday mental health.
Pets reduce your stress. If you want to try and control your stress levels, go and chat to your pet. Studies have shown that pet owners reacted less to stress – and recovered from it much quicker – when their pets were present. Another study took 48 people with high blood pressure and high stress jobs. Researchers measured how they responded to stress before the test. Then, some of them bought a pet and six months later researchers again measured their response to stress. The results were interesting: after 6 months pet owners had less of a physical response to stress compared with those who didn’t have a four-legged friend.
Pets are great. And a lot of them need homes. Help out a pet (adopt!) while helping to improve your mental health.