Pets are a shoulder to cry on, an alarm clock, an exercise partner, and a family member. One of the greatest benefits pets provide is a 24/7 emotional support system. People are happier and healthier in the presence of animals. Scientifically-documented benefits of the human-animal bond include decreased blood pressure, reduced anxiety, and enhanced feelings of well-being, and sometimes our furry friends don't receive the credit that's due. With over 25 years' of research showing that living with pets provides a bounty of health benefits. These are just five:
1. Better Movement
Research shows that dog-owners get 54 percent more exercise than pet-free people. Other research shows pets can help lower stress, blood pressure, cholesterol, and that owning a pet boosts survival among people with heart disease.
Research funded by the National Institutes of Health revealed that more than 2,000 adults who owned and walked their dogs regularly were in better shape, and were less likely to be become obese, than those who did not walk a dog.
Additionally, walking improves cardiac risk factors such as diabetes, vascular stiffness and inflammation and mental stress.
2. Lower Stress, Better Attitude
Pets are even being used to help our nation's servicemen overcome post-traumatic stress disorder.
Pets know when we need them most, which gives us a feeling of belonging and a self-esteem boost.
One study in the American Journal of Cardiology found that pet owners had hearts that adapted better to stressful situations than non-pet owners.
3. A Healthy Heart
Your heart loves your pet in more ways than one. Most studies in this field suggest that cats and dogs can help improve our heart health.
The American Heart Association cites a number of studies that found pet ownership may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Some data even indicates that pets help lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and that owners with heart issues are more likely to survive heart attacks.
4. Better Than Medicine Allergy Protection.
A study published in JAMA in 2002, shows that being exposed to pet dander early on in life can help prevent future allergies.
Specifically, children under the age of 1 who had two or more dogs or cats as family pets saw a reduction in allergy development by the time they were 6 or 7.
5. Conversation Starter
Taking your dog to the park or around the block for a walk may be benefiting you more than you're aware. Research indicates that walking with a dog leads to more conversations with neighbors, other dog owners, and helps you stay socially connected.
“People who have dogs live longer than people who have cats, and the assumption has been that dogs naturally cause their owners to be more active,” suggests Dr. Thomas Lee, Co-Editor in Chief of the Harvard Heart Letter. “The emotional benefits of having an affectionate creature are also one of the theories for why dog-lovers live longer.”
A 2001 study looked at 48 people with high blood pressure and high-stress jobs who agreed to adopt a dog or a cat if so asked. Half did, and six months later those who got a dog or cat had significantly lower blood pressure when stressed.
The mere act of getting a dog is no substitute for a plan to get regular physical activity, to eat a heart-healthy diet, and to get regular medical care. That said, dogs do seem to be good for your heart in many ways.
“Loneliness can’t be a good thing, either from a cardiovascular or a psychological perspective,” Dr. Lee notes. “I am not going to be prescribing dogs for patients with heart disease, but I certainly won’t discourage them—even if they consider themselves fairly limited by their medical problems.
A 2014 study in the journal Applied Developmental Science found that young adults with a strong attachment to cats and dogs also reported feeling more connected to their relationships and communities. And studies have shown those that have a more fulfilled and busy social life live longer, happier lives.