Pets are more than just companions; they enhance our lives in numerous ways, providing unconditional love, comfort, and support. As an urgent healthcare provider, I thought that the holiday season was the right time to speak about the remarkable health benefits of pet ownership.
While urgent care facilities, like Heavens Urgent Care, treat everything from stitches to broken bones, upper respiratory infections, sore throats, earaches, and so much more, this article is on the lighter, but science-based, side of the physical, emotional, and mental advantages that come hand in paw with having a furry friend by your side.
Health Benefits of Owning a Pet
Studies have shown1 that the bond between people and their pets is linked to several health benefits, including:
- Decreased blood pressure
- Healthier cholesterol levels
- Improved heart health
In a study of 240 married couples2, those with a cat or dog had lower heart rate and blood pressure levels than those who didn’t have pets.
Loving and caring for a pet can do more than give us a sense of connection, companionship, and contentment. We see that people with pets generally have a higher level of physical activity.
Owning a pet, especially an active one like a dog, encourages regular exercise. Dog walking is also associated with lower body mass index (BMI) and fewer doctor visits.
Then there are the studies that suggest that pets can effectively reduce blood pressure and heart rate responses to stress. Petting, cuddling, or simply being in the presence of a pet triggers the release of oxytocin, a hormone associated with relaxation and stress reduction.
Growing up with pets has been linked to a reduced risk of allergies and asthma. Exposure to pet dander and microbes facilitates the development of a stronger immune system, potentially reducing the likelihood of developing allergic reactions.
Emotional Benefits of Pet Ownership
The biggest emotional benefits that health providers see are overall improved well-being and alleviating depression. Pets provide companionship, helping to combat feelings of loneliness and isolation, particularly for individuals living alone or facing social challenges.
Interacting with a pet can boost the release of endorphins, leading to increased feelings of happiness and decreased symptoms of depression.
Additionally, petting or stroking a pet releases serotonin, a hormone known for promoting relaxation and happiness. This act stimulates the body’s relaxation response, reducing stress levels and promoting a calming effect.
Walking your dog or visiting a pet-friendly park often leads to increased social interaction, enabling pet owners to connect with other people who share their love for animals. This build-up of social support and the formation of new friendships can enhance overall emotional well-being.
Mental Benefits of Pet Ownership
Pets, especially dogs, require mental stimulation through training, games, and interactive play. Engaging in such activities fosters mental agility, enhances problem-solving skills, and keeps cognitive functions sharp.
Pets also provide their owners with a sense of purpose and responsibility. Taking care of another living being strengthens one’s self-esteem and self-worth, providing a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment.
Caring for a pet helps individuals develop resilience and adaptability. Overcoming challenges and learning to manage daily pet-related tasks can contribute to improved mental resilience and coping strategies.
Benefits of Pet Ownership for the Elderly
Older Americans receive all the great health benefits of owning a pet like mental stimulation, a sense of belonging, and more physical activity, but there’s more.
Studies suggest that a positive outlook on life can improve and speed recovery after an injury or illness. Pets help us put life into a positive perspective. That’s why many hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and long-term care centers have ongoing pet visitation programs for patients. Dogs are especially effective at helping older patients who have physical disabilities.
A study by the University of Michigan3, sponsored by AARP, found that 70% of older adults said their pet helps them cope with physical or emotional symptoms, and 46% said their pets help take their minds off pain.
If owning a pet isn’t a possibility for you, we suggest that you volunteer at your local animal shelter. Most shelters need dog walkers, so you can get your exercise in and do some social good at the same time.
The physical, emotional, and mental advantages that come with having a pet are remarkable. Owning a pet can increase physical activity levels, decrease stress and blood pressure, alleviate loneliness and depression, enhance cognitive abilities, and boost self-esteem.
So, if you’re searching for a holistic approach to improve your overall well-being, consider opening your heart and home to a furry companion.
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