Dogs and cats are more than just pets—they’re part of the family. They enhance your life by providing utter devotion, happiness and unconditional love. But did you know that your canine and feline companions are also beneficial to your health?
In honor of National Love Your Pet Day (February 20, 2019), let’s celebrate some of the ways pets enhance overall wellness.
1. They’re Heart Smart. Man’s best friend touches our heart in more ways than one. Living with a pet, especially a dog, can reduce your risk of heart disease, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). Compared to non-dog owners, dog owners have lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, regardless of their diet, their body mass index or whether or not they smoke, according to a large study. Researchers don’t know why exactly, but there’s evidence that simply petting a dog lowers blood pressure. While most of the research on cardiovascular health has been on dog ownership, living with cats can also be good for your heart.
2. They Provide Emotional Support. Pet ownership can also contribute to emotional well-being. Research has found that pets can provide comfort, promote a sense of accomplishment, relieve loneliness, increase social interactions and reduce depression. Pets can provide meaningful social support, which impacts overall well-being, according to several studies by Miami University. Their researchers found that pet owners experience increased self-esteem and happiness, and less loneliness and depression, compared to non-pet owners. In one experiment, they also found that pet owners who simply thought about their pet were better able to handle social rejection.
3. They’re Great Workout Partners. Taking your dog on a daily walk can help you get off the couch and get fit. Older adults get added health mileage from the miles they put in with their pooch. Seniors who walk their dog had lower body mass index, reported fewer doctor visits and engaged in more exercise and social activities, according to a University of Missouri study. People who walk their dog get an average of 30 minutes more exercise per day than those who aren’t dog walkers. Dog owners are also 54 percent more likely to get the daily physical activity recommended by the AHA.
4. They Decrease Stress. Owning a pet can also help you better handle stress and anxiety, according to the AHA. Studies show that interacting with a dog decreases your levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Their calming effect is why many college campuses bring in therapy dogs to help students get through final exams.
5. They Reduce Asthma Risk. It sounds backwards, but exposing your child to high levels of pet or pest allergens during infancy lowers their risk of developing asthma by age 7, according to research from the National Institutes of Health. So, don’t wait until they’re 10 to get them that puppy or kitten. Adopt a fur-ever pal when your children are babies so they can enjoy the benefits of pet ownership later in life, without the allergic reaction.