The majority of households in the U.S. have at least one pet. If you have one, you know why people say they’re considered part of the family. But besides companionship, owning a pet offers some real health benefits, both physical and mental. Here are some of the benefits of owning a pet in the categories of physical, mental and social health.
Overall, pets relieve much of the stress we encounter in our lives. According to the CDC, this translates to physical benefits like lower cholesterol, decreased blood pressure and lower triglycerides (a type of fat stored in the blood that converts to body fat). Studies show that being around animals quickly decreases levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body. Research on hospitalized heart patients found a dog’s presence was able to decrease patients’ blood pressure by about 10% in the left side of their hearts.
Besides those direct stress-relieving benefits, owning a dog encourages people to be more active and physically fit. Because common pets like dogs need regular exercise, pet owners are generally more active day to day. 60% of dog owners who regularly walked their pets met the federal guidelines for getting enough moderate to vigorous exercise per week. This means at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of intense exercise per week. Think taking your dog on a brisk walk vs. a run. Pets are a fun way to get more exercise everyday if you don’t feel like going to the gym.
Mental and Emotional Benefits
With pets’ ability to reduce physical stress come mental and emotional benefits, too. Because they reduce stress, pets are great for their owner’s mental health by promoting more positive emotions. Loneliness can lead to mental health concerns like depression, so having a constant companion like a dog or cat alleviates problems with that aspect of mental health. Pets help owners struggling with depression to feel less isolated from society, as that’s a common experience when dealing with the condition.
Additionally, besides regular pets, for people who have mental health concerns, emotional support pets can be great for managing anxiety and depression. The National Institute of Mental Health recognizes animal-assisted therapy as a treatment for depression and other mental health conditions.
Social Wellness Benefits
Pets are great for promoting their owner’s social wellness. Pet ownership allows more opportunities for socialization. Walking dogs is a great excuse to get outdoors and spend time with loved ones and friends. Dogs encourage social interaction and make it feel like you have a best friend around the house at all times.
And think about the times you’re stopped on the street while walking a dog. Dogs are great icebreakers for helping those who deal with social isolation, social anxiety or shyness. They’re great conversation starters and can start simple small talk, or even a real social connection. Overall, dogs are great for a healthy and happy social life.
There are real health benefits that come with owning a pet. The next time you pet your furry friend, remember they’re helping your physical and mental health. Think about how your stress is being released and your blood pressure being lowered. I think they might deserve an extra treat for that!