Studies have shown that people who own pets tend to be healthier. But is this just because healthy people are more likely to adopt pets? While it seems to make sense that good health must precede pet ownership, there is some evidence that owning a pet can actually have a positive impact on your health. Let’s take a closer look at ways in which having a pet can make you healthier.
A recent study found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that dog owners walked more than non-dog owners—22 minutes more per day, to be exact. It may not seem like 22 minutes would have a significant impact on your health, but this is pretty close to the American Heart Association’s recommendation for 30 minutes of exercise each day.
Yes, walking the dog does count as exercise. As long as you are walking at a pace of at least 3 mph, walking every day significantly reduces your risk of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease. So, don’t just let your dog out in the back yard; take a walk together.
A 2001 study recruited 48 people who were working high-stress jobs and had high blood pressure. Half were instructed to adopt a dog or a cat. Six months later, the researchers found that the participants who had adopted a pet had lower blood pressure when stressed, compared to the participants who had not adopted a pet.
This study was small, but multiple larger correlational studies have found that pet owners tend to be less vulnerable to the physical effects of stress than non-pet owners. This could be because cuddling with pets causes our brains to release oxytocin, a hormone which reduces stress.
No matter the mechanism by which pets lower our stress levels, stress relief is undoubtedly a health benefit. Lower stress levels mean lower risk of chronic diseases, as well as depression and anxiety.
Stronger Immune System
The next time your dog comes in the house covered in mud and starts rolling around on the freshly steam-cleaned carpet, don’t be mad at him. He’s giving your home a healthy dose of microbes.
This study found that dog ownership dramatically increased the number of bacterial species in the home. This may sound icky, but it’s actually a good thing. Many researchers believe that growing up in an environment rich in bacteria is important for developing a healthy immune system.
Studies have shown that children who grow up with a dog in the house have a decreased risk of developing asthma and allergies, probably because the dog brings more bacteria into the home. Dogs probably cannot alleviate adults’ allergic diseases, but they could have a significant impact on young children, whose immune systems are still developing.
Now, this does not mean that you should go out and adopt a pet solely for the purpose of getting healthier. But if you are already looking for a new friend, you now have even more reason to find one.
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