Have you ever noticed that you feel better when you’re around your pet? Spending quality time with a dog, cat, or other animals can have a positive impact on your mood. But did you know that owning a pet can also have potential health benefits, both mentally and physically, for you and your family? There is scientific evidence that touts some of the health perks of owning a pet. Take a look at how these seven ways having a pet could be good for your health.
1. Physical fitness
Owning a pet leads to a more active lifestyle. Playing with a dog and taking it for a walk, hike, or run are fun and rewarding ways to fit exercise into your schedule. Studies have shown that dog owners are far more likely to meet their daily exercise requirements than non-owners. One study found that walking an overweight dog helped both the animals and their owners lose weight (11 to 15 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.
2. Lower blood pressure
A report from Harvard Medical School found that dog owners have lower blood pressure than non-owners — probably because their pets have a calming effect. The power of touch also appears to be an important part of this “pet effect.” Several studies show that blood pressure goes down when a person pets a dog or cat.
3. Reduce stress
Simply being in the same room as your pet can have a calming effect. Studies have shown that people who have a pet actually experience less cardiovascular reactivity during times of stress. During stressful situations, pet owners’ heart rates and blood pressure tend to rise less and they return to normal levels faster than their non-pet owner counterparts. This is because a powerful neurochemical, oxytocin, is released when we are with our companion animal, which brings feelings of joy. It’s also accompanied by a decrease in cortisol, a stress hormone.
4. Decrease cardiovascular disease risk
Pet ownership, especially having a dog, is probably associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. In 2013, the American Heart Association reviewed previous research on how pets affect human health and found that owning a pet was associated with fewer heart disease risk factors and increased survival among patients. The study was published in the journal Circulation. This does not mean that there is a clear cause and effect relationship between the two. But it does mean that pet ownership can be a reasonable part of an overall strategy to lower the risk of heart disease.
5. Lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels
There is some evidence that owning a dog is associated with lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. A large study focusing on this question found that dog owners had lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels than non-owners and that these differences weren’t explainable by diet, smoking, or body mass index (BMI). However, the reason for these differences is still not clear.
6. Social support
Pets help create human-to-human friendships and social support, both of which are good for long-term health. Pet owners were more likely than non-pet owners to get to know people in their neighborhoods they hadn’t known before. Dog owners, and more specifically those who walked their dogs, were also far more likely to have reported befriending someone they met through a pet-related connection or getting social support from them.
7. Improve your mood
When you come home to a purr or wagging tail at the end of a stressful day, the sudden wave of calm you feel isn’t just your imagination. Research suggests that your fluffy friend truly is good for your physical and mental health. Pets often provide unconditional acceptance and love and they’re always there for you.