Dietary supplements are a great resource to improve your health. You expect us to say that, right? But we know that supplements are just one aspect of a very complex lifestyle that affects your health and emotional wellness. Today, we’re making a case for something else you can do to benefit your health: cute, fuzzy, maybe scaly, pets! Bet you weren’t expecting that…
Let’s Get Physical
Among other things, owning a dog can help you get healthy by increasing your physical activity. Playing with your dog and walking your dog forces increased exercise which in turn helps you lose weight, lowers blood pressure and reduces stress. Other pets can help you get up and move, too. Even if you prefer a cat, you still have to play with them, get up to feed them, check that they have water, and clean up after them. Every step, every movement counts!
Science Says So
Many studies have been done on humans and their interactions with animals. From an analysis of 69 original studies came a series of conclusions about the psychosocial and psychophysiological effects of human-animal interactions.1 Basically someone looked at a bunch of studies and found all the amazing benefits of pets and wrote them down for us. It’s how a scientist would write a love letter to animals.
Multiple studies covering a variety of age groups found that the presence of friendly animals decreased cortisol, the hormonal indicator of stress, when experiencing stressors. Other studies found that the presence of friendly animals, and petting animals, lowered blood pressure during or just before stressful situations. One study even found that the presence of one’s own pet had a greater effect on lowering blood pressure during stressors than the presence of a friend or even their spouse! Yep, loving the dog more than your spouse may not be that uncommon.
Other studies measured mood and self-reported fear and anxiety when a live animal versus a stuffed animal was petted. They saw significant benefits with live animals; ruling out the possibility that the act of petting was the calming factor in previous studies.
Old Dogs, New Tricks
A significant area of study has been the effects of pets on the elderly. Studies have shown that individual visits with pets have improved feelings of sadness and loneliness in the elderly. One specific study compared the effects of group visits to individual visits with the animals and found improved results with individual visits. Pets can help give elderly a sense of purpose, the feeling of being needed, and a distraction from negative thoughts and even some physical pains.
It’s a Win-Win
Elderly adopting pets is also a great benefit to the abundance of abandoned pets that need a loving home. Most elderly are retired and have ample time to share with a pet. It is important to consider the type of pet that is appropriate for each individual based on their physical, monetary, and environmental limitations. If Mom or Dad can’t walk very easily, and live in a small apartment, a husky might not be the best fit for them as they need hours of physical activity every day. Similarly, a fish is a much more affordable pet than a large breed dog. It is also commonly advised to seek older pets, as puppies and kittens for example, require much more work and care.
No matter your age, ailment, or circumstances, studies show that the love and companionship, or even just the presence of an animal can have positive benefits to your mood, stress, and overall health! Visit your local shelter to see what pet might be right for you!
- Beetz, Andrea et al. “Psychosocial and Psychophysiological Effects of Human-Animal Interactions: The Possible Role of Oxytocin.” Frontiers in Psychology 3 (2012).