They’re expensive, they’re messy, but if you’re among the millions of pet owners across the world, you just can’t imagine life without your beloved creature. Why are we trying so hard to make these animals part of our family?
Those who have a pet know how much fun and affection they bring to one’s life. But those who do not might be surprised to learn that pets bring with them some pretty powerful mental and physical health benefits, too.
1. A Dog Makes You Physically Active
Being a responsible pet owner, you know that your four-legged friend requires daily exercise. Long walks with your dog will keep you as well as your pet physically active. In fact, walking is one of the best exercises for adults.
Researchers at Michigan State University found that dog owners are 34 percent more likely to fit in 150 minutes of walking per week than non-dog owners. The study also found that owning a dog promotes health and fitness even after you take your pup for a stroll, increasing leisure-time physical activity by 69 percent. A University of Missouri study found that walking with a puppy leads to a 28 percent increase in walking speed, compared to only a 4 percent increase when walking with a human buddy.
2. Reduces Stress
Another great yet unexpected benefit of owning a dog is that they help reduce stress! Spending time with your pet can help increase levels of the feel-good hormone oxytocin in your brain and lower the production of cortisol, a stress hormone.
Playing with or petting an animal can increase levels of the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin and decrease the production of the stress hormone cortisol. These hormonal changes can help a nervous child feel more relaxed about reading aloud. Reduced stress can also benefit physical health. In a 2001 study, researchers found that pet-owning patients with high blood pressure could keep their blood pressure lower during times of mental stress than patients without pets.
3. Fights Depression
Your pet can also help fight depression and improve your mood. In fact, pet therapy, or animal-assisted therapy, can lead to a reduction of anxiety, pain, and depression in people with a range of mental or physical health problems. It can even build self-confidence in people who are afraid of going out and mingling with others.
A 2012 study published in Frontiers in Psychology analyzed the psychosocial and psychophysiological effects of human-animal interaction and found that it leads to the improvement of mood, reduction of self-reported fear and anxiety, and reduction of stress-related parameters such as cortisol, heart rate, and blood pressure.
4. Lowers Heart Disease Risk
Owning a pet also is linked to a reduction in cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels and a lower likelihood of obesity. A 2001 study published in Hypertension concludes that people with high blood pressure can keep their blood pressure lower during times of mental stress by spending time with their pets as compared to patients who do not spend time with pets.
5. Detects Cancer
Dogs have an amazing ability to detect different types of cancer. With about 220 million scent receptors, dogs are becoming famous for detecting cancer, such as skin, breast, lung, prostate and bladder cancer. Early detection of a deadly disease such as cancer helps prevent the spread of cancerous cells and improves the odds of successful treatment.
6. Builds Empathy
Caring for a pet, especially dogs, can strengthen the bonds between humans and provide social and relationship benefits. Taking care of a pet reminds owners that animals have needs and fulfilling those needs can help owners become more caring and compassionate.