9 Ways Pets Can Improve Your Health

a young woman holds a dachshund in her hands

All pet lovers know that their furry friends make them happier, but did you know they can make you healthier too? Recent research proves that having pets can be beneficial for both physical and mental health. While some seem obvious—such as the exercise you get from walking your dog around the block—there are others that may surprise you.

Stress Relief

Your body releases oxytocin, a powerful neurochemical that brings feelings of joy, simply by looking at your pet. Additionally, being around pets also leads to a decrease in the stress hormone cortisol.

Heart Health

The American Heart Association states that your overall risk for cardiovascular disease lessens when you own a pet. They found this was mostly due to a combination of increased fitness and lowered stress, blood pressure, and cholesterol.

Social Connection and Support

A recent study of young adults found that the ones who had deep bonds with their pets were more connected in their other relationships, as well. That goes for all realationships—whether they were romantic, friendly, or familial. This is because pet owners tend to be more confident and empathetic. Additionally, pets can help you connect with other people you might not otherwise.

Immune System Health

A recent study discovered that babies exposed to pets before they were six months old were less likely to develop allergic disease, hay fever, or eczema as they grew older. Additionally, children regularly exposed to dogs in the household during the first year of their life are less likely to have allergies, asthma, or upper respiratory infections. This is because exposure to dander and allergens at an early age strengthens the immune system.

Lower Cholesterol

A recent study by the Australian National Heart Foundation showed that people who owned pets (especially men) tend to have lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. This is probably due to daily walks and other activities you do for your pet.

Blood Pressure Reduction

Petting your dog or cat is a therapeutic act that will naturally lower your blood pressure. One study looked at people already taking medication for hypertension and discovered that their blood pressure response to stress was cut in half if they owned a dog or cat.

Depression Relief

Pet owners tend to have a better overall sense of wellbeing compared to non-owners. According to the British Psychological Society, dogs, in particular, promote therapeutic and psychological wellbeing. They do so by lowering stress levels, boosting self-esteem, and bringing about feelings of autonomy and competence. Especially for depressed individuals, animals can bring a very calming presence. They also create a social bond for people to focus on instead of the negative thoughts.

Chronic Pain Relief

Just as pets can help distract from depressive thoughts, the simple task of caring for a pet can also help distract you from chronic pain. Additionally, petting your animal releases endorphins, which can be powerful pain relievers. People hospitalized for surgical procedures report needing fewer pain relievers when they receive pet therapy as well.

Health Monitoring

Since pets are so sensitive to their owners’ behavior, this can be very beneficial, especially for someone who suffers from diabetes. There are several organizations that specifically train dogs to aid detecting blood sugar changes. This is because when blood sugar levels drop, the smell of your breath will change. Dogs are able to pick up on this change if they are trained to do so. Not only can dogs make you feel better about your life, but they could also potentially save it.

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