8 scientifically proven reasons why having a pet is good for your health
Our furry, scaly, or feathery friends can do more than just provide us with companionship — they can also have a positive impact on our physical and mental health. Here are eight scientifically proven benefits to having a pet.
1. They can help to reduce stress and improve heart health
Pets can provide us with much-needed companionship and unconditional love, both of which can help to reduce stress levels. For example, research has shown that petting a dog can help to lower your blood pressure and heart rate.
Studies have shown that owning a pet can help to reduce our risk of developing cardiovascular disease. For example, one study found that dog owners had a significantly lower risk of dying from a heart attack than those without a pet.
As this study from the early 90’s notes: “There is increasing evidence suggesting that pet ownership causes measurable short term psychological and physiological effects in people, including reduction of blood pressure and mitigation of psychological indicators of anxiety. There is also evidence that pet ownership is associated with clinically significant health effects in people, including improved survival after a coronary event.”
2. They can help to boost our immunity
Believe it or not, pets can also help to boost our immunity. It’s unknown what the exact mechanism of action is, but it’s believed that exposure to their bacteria can help to build up our own resistance to infection. For example, one study found that children who were exposed to dogs early in life were less likely to develop allergies later on.
“In our pilot study of 136 responses, we found that pet ownership decreased the frequency of illness… Children ages 3 to 6 had the lowest rates of sickness, sickness length and allergies and may have developed a stronger immune system as a result of pet exposure at an early age.”
3. They can help to improve our mental health
Pets can provide us with companionship, love, and a sense of security, which can help to relieve feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression. In fact, research has shown that interacting with a pet can increase levels of the “feel-good” hormone oxytocin and decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
A study conducted in 2019 to measure pet ownership and its influence on mental health in older adults found that ‘the role of pet ownership may benefit community-dwelling older adults by providing companionship, giving a sense of purpose and meaning, reducing loneliness and increasing socialisation. These benefits may also increase resilience in older adults against mental health disorders, which may positively influence their mental health outcomes.’
4. They can help to improve our physical health
It’s fairly common sense, but regular walking or playing with a pet can help to increase our levels of physical activity, which can in turn lead to a host of health benefits, including improved cardiovascular health, increased muscle strength, and improved joint mobility.
The scientific evidence is strongest for dog owners, with one publication stating that a “large Californian study found that people who owned a dog walked more as a leisure-time activity and walked almost 20 minutes more each week than people who did not own a pet.”
5. They can help us to live longer
Research has shown that people who own pets tend to live longer than those who do not own pets. Several studies found that dog owners had a lower risk of dying (particularly from cardiovascular disease) than those who did not own a dog.
The report from the American Heart Association found that dog ownership ‘was associated with a 24% risk reduction for all-cause mortality as compared to nonownership with 6 studies demonstrating significant reduction in the risk of death. Notably, in individuals with prior coronary events, living in a home with a dog was associated with an even more pronounced risk reduction for all-cause mortality
In a retrospective investigation involving more than 400 participants, dog owners had greater survival after 12 months than people who did not live with dogs, but cat owners did not live longer than participants who did not have a cat.’
So the science is in: pets are good for your health. If you want to walk more and live longer in particular, get a dog! (we can already hear cats protesting at what must be ‘flawed’ research).
Want to learn more about the health benefits of pet ownership? Watch the video below!
What do you think? Do you think your pets enrich, and possibly extend your life? Let us know in the comments below.