As you read this article, is there a furry friend lying next to you on the couch or sitting at your feet? There’s a good chance. Pet ownership comes with a lot of responsibilities, that’s for sure, but research suggests it can also come with significant health benefits. However, it should be borne in mind that the vast majority of research into the effects of companion animals on human health is observational, meaning that it suggests a link between these two factors rather than a cause-and-effect relationship .
Read on to discover six ways a pet can help you stay healthier and happier.
1. Pets promote social bonding
Having a dog allows you to get outside, which naturally drives you to interact and get involved with your community on a regular basis. For example, pets can be used to break ice. For many, pets serve as social capital in the neighborhood.
This can be especially useful for introverts, for example, or people who have trouble making conversation with new people. Observational studies have found that walking a dog in public increases the frequency with which we receive social interactions and social affirmations such as friendly looks and smiles.
2. Pet ownership is linked to lower blood pressure
While having a pet doesn’t entitle you to poor nutrition or health risks, the good news is that pet ownership is linked to better heart health. One study looked at pet ownership and cardiovascular reactivity, a potential marker of heart disease risk, and found that people with pets had lower heart rates and blood pressure. Pet owners also experienced smaller increases in heart rate and blood pressure during times of stress, and those increases normalized faster thereafter, suggests the study analyzing the dog and cat owners. Another randomized controlled trial, published in Hypertension in April 2018, indicates that pet ownership was associated with lower blood pressure responses to psychological stress.
3. Dogs can help increase your physical activity
Dog owners know what to do. As soon as you wake up, there is one important thing to take care of: take the dog out to do its business. Your engagement clearly requires you to move your body. Many owners who would otherwise get little or no physical activity, despite their doctor’s recommendations, end up getting plenty of exercise simply by caring for, playing with, and walking their dog. Depending on how many breaks you take, walking your dog as little as 30 minutes a day five days a week can get you closer to the recommendation of at least 150 minutes of exercise per week.
4. Pets can help avoid loneliness
Even if you’re in a relationship or live in a house full of roommates, loneliness can creep in, but having a pet can help, especially for people who live alone. For example, if you work remotely, you know it can be comforting to have your dog or cat curled up next to you while you type on your laptop. This company can benefit your mental health. There’s no solid scientific research on the subject, but at least anecdotally, pet owners seem quick to attribute a lack of solitude to their furry companion. However, a study published in PLoS One in December 2021 examined psychological markers in dog owners and non-owners during the COVID-19 pandemic using a validated online survey. Researchers found that dog owners felt significantly more social support (and less loneliness), which they believe was due to their pets. They also reportedly had fewer depression symptoms than non-dog owners, although they found no difference in overall anxiety or happiness scores.
5. Stroking your four-legged friend boosts the feel-good hormones
Have you ever wondered why you pet your pet, scratch their ears, or pat your cat’s tummy? Sure, your pet appreciates being pampered by their owner, but some research suggests that the person petting them has a hormonal advantage. For example, a small study published in Frontiers in Psychology in October 2017 found that petting dogs was associated with higher levels of the feel-good hormone oxytocin and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Another small previous study of participants paired to a new dog suggests that Fido’s presence was associated with reduced cortisol levels when tested for stress in an unfamiliar environment. Petting your furry friend can stimulate the production of oxytocin and endorphins, which he says can help reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness, and social isolation.
6. Pets can help boost mental health
Pets encourage social and emotional connections, which can have a positive impact on mood and overall mental health. Pets can be a source of support for people with mental health problems, an observational study has shown. Research seems to support the idea that pets can support mental health. A major review published in BMC Psychiatry in February 2018 looked at 17 studies of pet ownership among people with mental illness. The review suggests that pet ownership had several potential benefits for this group. For example, dog ownership was found to be beneficial for veterans living with post-traumatic stress disorder, and more generally, pet ownership was associated with better emotional stability. Owning a pet was also associated with an increased sense of purpose and utility.
* Presse Santé strives to impart medical knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE can the information provided replace a medical consultation.
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