Nearly 73 million American households are home to at least one pet, according to the AmericanPetProductsManufacturersAssociation. Many of these pet owners will tell you that their pets have improved their life, and a growing body of scientific evidence confirms that owning a pet can improve your physical, mental and emotional health.
One of the most recent studies was completed by researchers at St. Louis University and Miami University in Ohio. Focusing on “everyday people” who aren’t affected by significant health challenges, the study found a variety of physical and emotional benefits associated with pet ownership.
It also found that most pet owners have healthy relationships with key people in their lives, busting the myth that a strong relationship with a pet is a replacement for human relationships.
Here are 10 of the ways that pets can improve your health:
- Lift moods: People who love animals find that their mood is lifted when they spend time with a pet. Research also supports the mood-enhancing benefits of pet ownership.
- Reduce anxiety: Pet owners feel safer and less afraid of being a crime victim when walking a dog or sharing their home with a dog. Caring for an animal has a calming effect that can also help reduce anxiety.
- Decrease depression: People who are lacking in social support often are affected by isolation, loneliness and resulting depression. The emotional bond that pets provide can lessen the symptoms of depression. According to PsychologyToday, the likelihood that a non-pet owner will be diagnosed with clinical depression is four times higher than for pet owners who are the same age.
- Improve social support: In addition to providing an emotional bond, pets can help people who are living alone establish human relationships. Pet ownership is a shared experience that brings people together; as anyone who walks a dog can confirm, dog owners will usually stop and chat with other dog owners.
- Increase physical fitness: Taking a dog for a walk each day contributes to a pet owner’s physical fitness. TIME reports that dog owners are 34 percent more likely to get the proper amount of exercise for good health. Interacting with any type of pet can also contribute to physical fitness by relieving stress.
- Lower blood pressure and reduce stress: In a study presented at a meeting of the AmericanHeartAssociation, two groups of stockbrokers were tested for work-related high blood pressure and stress. Those who had been given a pet reduced their stress-related high blood pressure by half.
- Lower cholesterol: People with pets have been found to have lower cholesterol compared to people with similar height and weight who don’t own pets. There are also indications that pet ownership can lower triglycerides and help protect heart health.
- Avoid allergies and improve immunity: A Swedish study found that children who live with a pet during their first year of life have a lower incidence of allergies, while a study conducted in the United Kingdom found that kids with pets have fewer school sick days.
- Improve longevity following heart attacks: Follow-up studies of people who were hospitalized for heart attacks have found that pet owners have a significantly higher survival rate. Cardiologists theorize that the social support and bonds of affection provided by pets reduces the stress that contributes to cardiovascular problems.
- Reduce medication requirements: According to the non-profit organization PetPartners, hospital patients and nursing home residents who are visited by therapy pets require less pain medication and medical attention.
Erica is the community manager for Georgetown University’s online Masters in Nursing program. Outside of work, she adores photography, exploring New York City and meeting new people.