Pets, we all love them. Whether you get one for its cuteness, companionship, or even protection, pets can be a great addition to your everyday life. Now, there’s even more reason to get a pet, with research backing it up. Studies have shown that pets can be more than just fluffy additions to your home, with their ability to benefit various aspects of your health and well-being, aiding the journey towards longevity.
The Health Benefits of A Pets
1. Increasing Physical Fitness
Walking your furry friend does more than just keep them healthy and active, it also yields health benefits for you. The American Heart Association has shown that walking your pet for 20–30 minutes a day is enough for us to meet their weekly physical activity recommendations (which is 75–150 minutes of moderate exercise per week). Achieving this yields various health benefits, including:
2. Improved Cardiovascular Fitness
Also known as cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF), this is a major indicator of your health. The American Heart Association has found that cardiovascular fitness levels are not only linked to heart failure risk, but also to the likelihood of heart failure hospitalization later in life. Research has also shown that increased cardiovascular fitness can also lower your risk of heart disease, the biggest killer in the U.S.
An epidemiology study has found that the responsibilities that come with owning a dog can decrease one’s risk of early cardiovascular death by 36%. A number of studies have also reported that simple physical activity, such as walking your pet, can decrease one’s risk of a sudden heart attack or other life-threatening cardiac events. These benefits also extend to those who have suffered from a heart attack. According to research published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, owning a pet (specifically, a dog) was linked to a 33% lower risk of death among heart attack survivors.
3. Lowered Blood Pressure
Also known as hypertension, high blood pressure is another leading cause of death in the U.S. It affects about 116 million Americans, and accounts for nearly 31 000 annual deaths, as stated by the Centers for Disease Control. The risk of hypertension does increases with age. However, moderate exercise can positively impact your blood pressure, leading to a decreased risk of hypertension.
Walking your pet consistently counts as regular exercise, which strengthens the heart to pump more blood with less effort. As a result, there is a decreased force on your arteries, leading to lowered blood pressure, heart disease risk, and stroke risk.
4. Improved Mental Health
A review reported by Medical News Today shows that people living with mental health conditions had provided positive testimonials on the emotional and psychological impact that their pets have on them.
Along with this, another study of about 2000 pet owners found that 74% of the participants had reported mental health improvements due to their pets. With their ability to potentially aid stress, depression, and anxiety, research shows that pets can positively impact mental health in the following ways:
As the body’s primary stress hormone, cortisol is secreted in response to a stressful situation. It increases the amount of sugar (glucose) in the bloodstream, which leads to an elevated blood sugar level. Having a chronically high amount of Cortisol secretion can lead to persistent high blood sugar (also known as hyperglycemia), putting you at a greater risk for Type 2 Diabetes. So how does your furry friend help you with this?
A recent study on university students (who are under immense stress) found that petting cats and dogs for just 10 minutes led to a decrease in the amount of cortisol in the participants’ saliva, proving that pets are able to lower stress levels.
Referred to as “the love hormone,” oxytocin is a powerful hormone that binds with receptors in the spinal cord and brain that is responsible for evoking feelings of contentment and reductions in social anxiety. Researchers also believe that oxytocin can prevent neuroinflammation, therefore protecting neurons in the developing brain.
A number of studies have shown that the interaction between humans and dogs, whether it be through petting or cuddling, leads to a surge in oxytocin secretion in both. In fact, another study showed that 84% of post-traumatic stress disorder patients who were paired with a service dog had reported a major decrease in symptoms, with 40% of them being able to decrease their medication consumption.
5. Improved Immunity and Allergy Prevention
Studies have indicated that exposure to pets can stimulate certain aspects of our immune system. In fact, according to studies, having a pet in the home can decrease the likelihood of a child developing home-related allergies by 33%.
Pediatrician James E. Gern, M.D., states that those “growing up in a home with ‘furred animals’ will have a lower risk of allergies and asthma,” with noticeably high levels of some immune system chemicals reflecting a strong immune system. Pets can also positively impact adult immune health in the following way:
- Increasing Immunoglobulin A Levels: Being the most abundant antibody found in the body, IgA binds to foreign cells such as bacteria and viruses, helping neutralize the foreign cells by signaling your white blood cells to destroy them. This makes it effective in the protection of your respiratory, digestive, and urinary systems. A study has found that petting a dog for only 18 minutes can significantly raise IgA levels in our saliva, making it easier for our bodies to fight off sicknesses.
A New Meaning To “Man’s Best Friend”
From improved cardiovascular health to improved immune defense, pets are truly man’s best friend, in more ways than one. As all the research has found, we should all make the decision to get a pet. It’s not just for the companionship and cuteness overload, but for a healthier, longer life.
However, ensure that you conduct an allergy test beforehand. This will ensure that your desired pet won’t cause you more harm than good. Allergies in cats and dogs currently affect about 10-20% of the world’s population, so it is important to be certain of this before deciding to be a pet parent.
MAIN IMAGE CREDIT: Photo by Yaroslav Shuraev
- Trigg, J., 2022. Examining the role of pets in cancer survivors’ physical and mental wellbeing. Journal of Psychosocial Oncology, 40(6), pp.834-853.
- Dale, S., 2022. Younger generations are obsessed with their pets. dvm360, 53(8), pp.80-80.
- Gee, N.R., Bibbo, J. and Dunn, L., 2023. Companion Animals in the Treatment of Dementia and Aging-Related Concerns. The Role of Companion Animals in the Treatment of Mental Disorders, p.205.