Eat right, exercise, get enough sleep…that’s what we’ve heard for years when it comes to improving our health. Well now, you just may have to add something else to that list…getting a pet! Owning a pet is one of life’s greatest pleasures, nothing compares to the joy of coming home to a loyal, furry companion. But the benefits do not end there – your pet could be doing wonders for your health and well-being too.
Here are some health benefits our furry friends can provide (as if we needed another reason to love them):
Lower risk of allergies
Did you know that around 50 million people in the U.S. have nasal allergies, and that pet dander is one of the most common triggers? With this in mind, it may be surprising to learn that pets can actually lower the risk of their owners developing allergies. One study reported by Medical News Today in 2015 associated exposure to dogs and farm animals in early life with a lower risk of asthma development by school age.1 More recent research published in the journal Microbiome found that children who were exposed to household pets prior to birth and up to three months after, experienced changes in gut bacteria associated with childhood allergies.2 Both of these studies support something called the “hygiene hypothesis,” which suggests that the greater exposure to pathogens and potential allergens at an early age can strengthen the immune system, which may increase tolerance to allergies later in life.
Reduce anxiety and stress
Two studies published in Scientific American, examined the impact pets have on human emotions. In the first study, participants were divided into three groups. One group had a pet close by, the second was asked to think about their pet, and for the third, pets were not involved at all. They were told to list their goals and how confident they were in achieving them. The first two groups came up with a longer list of goals, and were significantly more confident that they could achieve them.3
In the second experiment, researchers divided participants into the same three groups, but this time asked them to perform a stressful task and monitored changes in their blood pressure. Those who had pets nearby or were thinking of pets had markedly lower blood pressure. The takeaway? Having pets close to you, or even just thinking about your pets, has the effect of lowering stress.4 Pets help us to live in the moment. A simple game of fetch with your dog can really keep you tethered to the present moment, and reduce stress and anxiety associated with the future.
Better heart health
Owning a pet, especially a dog, is associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. This does not mean that there is a crystal clear cause and effect relationship between the two, but it does mean that pet ownership can be thought of as a reasonable part of an overall strategy to lower the risk of heart disease.5 Several studies have shown that dog owners have lower blood pressure than non-owners – probably because their pets have a calming effect on them and because dog owners tend to get more exercise (taking dog on walks). The power of touch also appears to be important as well. Several studies show blood pressure goes down when a person pets a dog.6
The love and companionship from pets can do wonders for your mental and physical health. Pet owners are oftentimes happier, more confident, and more physically fit. If you are looking to adopt a pet, you won’t just improve the quality of their life, they will help improve the quality of your life too.