Almost all pet owners are clear about the immediate happiness that comes with sharing their lives with companion animals. Nevertheless, many of us remain unaware of the physical and mental health benefits that can also accompany the pleasure of snuggling up to a furry friend. It’s only recently that studies have begun to scientifically explore the perks of the human-animal bond.
Pets have evolved to become acutely accustomed to humans and our behavior and emotions. Dogs, for instance, are able to understand many of the words we use, but they’re even better at interpreting our tone of voice, body language, and gestures. And like any good human friend, a loyal dog will look into your eyes to measure your emotional state and try to understand what you’re thinking and feeling (and to figure out when the next walk or treat might be coming, of course).
Pets, specifically dogs and cats, can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, ease loneliness, encourage exercise and playfulness, and even improve your cardiovascular health. Looking after an animal can help children grow up more secure and active. Pets also offer valuable companionship for older adults.
STudies have found that:
- Pet owners are less likely to go through depression than those without pets.
- Pet-parents 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 remarkably within five months.
- Spending time with a dog or cat can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax.
- Pet owners have lower amount of triglyceride and cholesterol levels (indicators of heart disease) than those without pets.
- Heart attack patients with pets tend to survive longer than those without.
- Pet parents over age 65 make hardly any visits to their doctors than those without pets.
- While people with pets often experience the greatest health benefits, a pet doesn’t have to be a dog or a cat.
One of the causes for these therapeutic effects is that pets fulfill the basic human want for touch. Even hardened criminals in prison show long-term changes in their behavior after interacting with pets, many of them experiencing mutual affection for the very first time. Stroking, hugging, or otherwise touching a loving animal can swiftly calm and soothe you when you’re stressed or anxious. The companionship of a pet can also ease loneliness, and most dogs are a great stimulus for healthy exercise, which can considerably boost your mood and ease depression.
How pets can help you make healthy lifestyle choices
Opting for a healthy lifestyle plays an important role in easing symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, and PTSD. Taking care of a pet can help you make healthy lifestyle changes by:
Increasing exercise. Taking a your dog for a walk, hike or run are fun are rewarding ways to stay fit. Studies have shown that dog parents are far more likely to meet their daily exercise requirements—and exercising every day is healthy for the animal as well. It will deepen the connection between you, get rid of most behavior problems in dogs, and keep your pet fit and healthy.
Providing companionship. Companionship can help prevent diseases and even add years to your life, while isolation and loneliness can trigger symptoms of depression. Caring for a living being 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 parents talk to their pets, some even use them to work through their troubles.
Helping you meet new people. Pets can be a great social lubricant for their owners, helping you start and make new relations. Dog parents frequently stop and talk to each other on walks, hikes, or in a dog park.
Reducing anxiety. The companionship of an animal can offer comfort, help in curing anxiety, and build self-confidence for people anxious about going out into the world. Because pets believe in ‘carpe diem’—they don’t worry about what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow—they can help you become more mindful and help you live in the moment.
Adding structure and routine to your day. Many pets, especially dogs, require a fixed feeding and exercise schedule. Having a consistent schedule keeps an animal balanced and calm—and it can work for you, too.
Providing sensory stress relief. Touch and movement are two healthy ways to handle stress. Stroking a dog, cat, or other animal can lower blood pressure and help you quickly feel calmer and less stressed.