Human Health Benefits of Pets in Your Life
Do you remember a period in your life when you couldn’t have a pet as an adult? Maybe you were renting an apartment, going to school, or traveling for your job? You made the responsible choice not to have a pet you couldn’t care for. Then life changed and suddenly you found you were able to take care of a new furry friend. Most pet parents who had a forced hiatus from pet ownership will tell you that they felt more content—or more complete—as a pet owner. Beyond just a ‘feeling,’ scientific evidence suggests that animals truly benefit their owner’s health. They may even help them live longer.
According to the Centers of Disease Control and prevention, healthy pets means healthy people. “Studies have shown that the bond between people and their pets can increase fitness, lower stress, and bring happiness to their owners.” Some of the health benefits of having a pet include:
- Decreased blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels,
- Decreased feelings of loneliness,
- Increased opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities,
- Increased opportunities for socialization, and
- Longer life.
Physical and Mental Health Benefits are Intertwined
Studies have shown that dog owners have lower blood pressure than non-owners. Perhaps that’s because 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.
Pet owners also feel more secure with dogs and cats because of the unconditional love they provide. The responsibility of pet ownership is not insignificant but it also gives the owner a sense of purpose and a feeling of validation. When you wake up or come home and there’s someone who’s happy to see you, it positively affects oxytocin, one of the body’s “feel good” chemicals. Oxytocin is the hormone released when a mother nurses her baby and also plays a role in social bonding. Playing with a dog or cat can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain, which calm and relax. When you have this experience regularly, it can reduce stress which in turn decrease cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
That reduction in stress and improved blood and brain chemistry in turn improves your mental health by elevating your mood. The joy and laughter of pet ownership not only make every day feel brighter, they optimize brain chemistry. That lessens depression, anxiety and other forms of stress.
Pet Owners Exercise More
“A study conducted by exercise scientists at the University of Liverpool, found that most dog owners spend close to 300 minutes each week walking their dogs — about 200 more minutes of weekly walking than people without dogs.” Dog owners also spent slightly more time than non-dog folks engaging in activities like cycling, jogging or going to the gym. So having to walk their dogs was not an excuse to omit other exercise from their weekly schedule.
Think about how many times you’ve wanted to stay on the couch. But you didn’t because your dog needed a walk or your cat wanted to sit with you in the sunshine. That may seem small, but it adds up over a lifetime.
Of course, when you just can’t get out, remember that Run Those Dogs is here to get your pet the exercise they need.
Benefits for Children Too
Animals can also teach children empathy and other life skills that will help them be better adults.
Caring for an animal can help children grow up more secure and active. Children whose families owned dogs walked about 100 minutes per week. They also played with their canines another 200 minutes according to the Liverpool study. That made those kids a good bit more active than youngsters in dog-less homes.
Although there is still plenty to study, all of these physical and mental health benefits seem to combine and result in increased longevity or lifespan. “Scientists found dog owners were likely to live longer than those who didn’t have dogs: dog owners had a 24% risk reduction for death from any cause, according to the study. For people with heart problems, living with a dog had an even greater benefit, authors said.”
As the scientific study of human health continues, we’re likely to discover many more benefits of pet parenthood. If you or the ones you love are considering adding a pet to the family, please make thoughtful, careful and responsible decisions. Consult your local humane society or rescue group as there are so many pets out there waiting to share the love, companionship and exercise that will help you both live a long, happy and healthy life. And please, be sure to call Run Those Dogs if we can help with pet sitting and exercise for your fur baby.