The relationships we have with our pets are mutually beneficial: Your pet provides you with protection, loyalty, companionship and affection. And you provide your pet with food, shelter and companionship.
New evidence shows us that our pets give us something else, too: A huge positive effect on our emotional and physical health. Here are five ways pets help keep us healthy.
1. Sleeping with a pet may help you snooze better
A recent survey from the Mayo Sleep Clinic found that having a pet in the bedroom can help some people feel more “secure, content and relaxed.” While 20 percent of pet owners stated that having an animal in the room disturbed their sleep from time to time, many respondents claimed that they did not experience problems with their pets being noisy or moving around. In fact, many claimed that having a pet nearby soothed them and helped them relax, which helped him sleep better.
Sleeping with your pet may not be for everyone, however. If you are a light sleeper your dog or cat tends to move around or make a lot of noise at night, keeping your pet in your room may actually disturb your sleep.
2. Owning a dog can make you more physically active
Owning a dog has been shown to increase physical activity and reduce the health risks associated with living a sedentary lifestyle. This is especially true for dog owners, since our little canine friends need to be walked and played with much more than cats and hamsters. If your dog gets overweight, sitting around with you all day, his presence will be of no benefit to your physical health.
So take advantage of your walking companion whenever you can. Challenge yourself to walk longer distances each time you go out. Take up jogging. And get the whole family involved. Even your kids can benefit from the additional exercise.
And let’s not forget that all this walking and playing is important to keeping your four-legged friends healthy, too. Helping them maintain a healthy weight will help them live longer. If you are ever lacking the motivation to get moving, remember that the exercise is just as important to your pet as it is to you.
Before ramping up the miles too much, get your dog a checkup to make sure he’s healthy and fit for these adventures. If cost is a concern, you can start by comparing pet insurance options to find out which cover routine veterinary exams and procedures.
3. Pets improve your cardiovascular health
The American Heart Association states that having a pet has both physical and emotional benefits that can lower your risk of heart disease.
Like we said earlier, owning a dog encourages most people to be more physically active. Getting a little extra exercise each day is greatly beneficial to your heart health. This is one of the main reasons that dog owners are more likely to have lower cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure than people without dogs.
A second cardiovascular benefit of pet ownership is simply a result of the emotional bond you feel with your animal. Owning an affectionate pet has been shown to keep your heart healthier and help you live longer. In fact, the simple act of petting a dog or cat can immediately reduce your blood pressure and heart rate.
4. Having a pet eases depression
Studies have found that dog owners are less likely to suffer from depression than people without pets for several reasons: Playing with a pet can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which make you feel happy and calm. Dogs, in particular, bring unconditional love and joy to your life, which can reduce loneliness and depression. And, especially if you live alone, having an animal to care for can make you feel needed, appreciated and loved.
Owning a pet can also help you be more social. People who suffer from bouts of depression often tend to withdrawal from social situations. This isolation can exacerbate symptoms. One way to battle depression is to step out of your comfort zone and work to expand your network of friends. Having a pet is an easy way to do this. Dog owners frequently meet new people on walks or at the park. And your pet makes a great icebreaker since he gives you common ground to initiate conversation, which can help ease social anxiety.
5. Bonding with a pet increases your ability to cope with stress
When you are under stress, your body undergoes several physiological changes. Your heart rate and blood pressure increase, your blood vessels constrict and you release the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. In acute (short-term) stress situations, these symptoms disappear when the stressful event is over.
Meditation, exercise, spirituality and counseling are all effective ways to cope with stress. Pet therapy is a fairly new approach for getting stress under control. Recent studies have shown that people with pets handle acute-stress situations better than non-pet owners.
According to an Australian study, which observed the blood pressure and heart rate of 72 adults during stressful situations. They found that dog owners’ stress responses were lower in the presence of their pet than it was when their pet was not around. However, when an unknown dog was introduced, the participants experienced a much smaller reduction in their stress response. So while the presence of a pet helps reduce acute stress, you get the most stress relief when you play with or pet an animal to which you feel an emotional bond and a sense of companionship.