Americans love their pets and they don’t mind showing it. There’s doggy daycare, spas where you can schedule a massage for your favorite furball, and shops that sell nothing but gourmet treats and toys for pets. For many people, pets become part of the family.
Pets return our love unconditionally. And, without even trying, pets help improve your health. It doesn’t even matter what kind of pet you get, although the effects are even greater with affectionate pets and those that require walking every day. Keep reading to discover the ways a pet can help you live longer.
Pets Help Relieve Stress
No matter what causes the stress, our bodies react the same way, releasing chemicals that boost the heart rate and get the blood pumping. It’s an evolutionary hold-over from our cave-dwelling days, when we needed those hormones to survive.
Today, few of us have to fight off predators or forage for food. But, when we feel the stresses common in modern life, our bodies still react as though we do. Over time, that fight or flight response takes a toll, raising our risk for a variety of chronic conditions, such as heart disease and high blood pressure.
Scientists have studied the affects of animals in reducing our body’s stress response. It doesn’t just feel nice to rub a furry belly; it actually lowers your heart rate and reduces stress hormones. Pets also help alleviate feelings of anxiety, fear, and loneliness.
One of the best parts? The relief is practically instantaneous. Just 10 minutes of pet time and you should feel the difference. If you also take your pets for walks, you get the added benefit of exercise, which helps reduce stress hormones with or without a pet.
Improve Your Heart Health
According to the American Heart Association, spending time with a beloved pet lowers your risk of heart disease, with studies proving that dog owners have lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Doctors think it may have something to do with the stress benefits mentioned above.
If you have cardiovascular disease, you may want to adopt a dog if you don’t already have one. Patients diagnosed with cardiovascular disease who also have a dog are four times more likely to be alive a year later. They’re also more likely to survive a heart attack!
Do you prefer cats? That’s okay – cat owners who have cardiovascular disease are 40 percent less likely to have a heart attack and have a 30 percent lower mortality rate.
Keep Depression at Bay
There are so many reasons pets are good for your emotional health that it’s hard to know where to start! First, having an animal to care for helps us feel needed and purposeful. After all, they need food, water, walks, play time, and attention. When we feel needed, we’re less likely to become depressed.
Pets also keep us from feeling lonely or isolated, which may also cause depression. Just about any type of animal will do, with researchers using everything from songbirds to dogs to assist patients from veterans to college students.
Boost Your Physical Activity
This mainly applies to dogs, but any pet that gets you up and moving helps improve your overall health, and pet owners tend to be more fit than people who don’t own pets. Dogs require regular, daily walks to do their “business” and get the exercise they need for their own health.
Simply taking your dog for a walk a few times a day goes a long way toward improving your own fitness. It’s also easier to control your weight. Increased physical activity helps lower blood pressure, reduce stress levels, improve circulation, lower cholesterol, and strengthen muscles and bones.
Pets Help Alzheimer’s and Cancer Patients
People living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia also benefit from pets, not only as friendly companions but as part of their therapy. Pets help boost mood and even improve patients’ nutritional intake. Dementia patients who live at home may also benefit from a canine caregiver to help with daily tasks, including reminders that it’s time to eat or take medication.
The same benefits are found in cancer patients, who seem to heal more quickly – emotionally and physically – with an animal by their side. Like dementia patients, cancer patients who are also pet owners are better about eating and following their treatment regimen. Dogs are even being trained to sniff out cancer cells!
There have been a lot of stories about therapy pets in the news recently, particularly about people abusing the idea of therapy pets. But, therapy animals are a real thing and they help countless people. While you mostly see dogs, there are also therapy cats, goats, pigs, horses, and rabbits, and they’re used to help people who are living with a variety of physical, emotional, and mental issues. A number of organizations train and supply animals to be used as therapy pets. For example, Pets for Vets provides rescue dogs to soldiers living with PTSD, giving them both a second chance.
Final Thoughts on Pets and Health
If you have the ability to care for an animal, consider adding one to your life. They love you unconditionally and offer so much in return. Your local animal rescue can help you find the perfect pet that enriches both your lives.
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