People have been keeping pets for as long as tens of thousands of years. What started as a utilitarian relationship has evolved into an unbreakable friendship.
People love their pets, and most people who have them consider them family members. It’s obvious that pets make people feel good, but researchers are learning more about the positive impacts they have on health — physical, mental, social and otherwise. The positive impact pets have on our physiology, known as the pet effect, is further proof that animals are our best friends.
Here are some examples of how pets positively impact our health.
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According to the Pet Effect, a campaign that aims to raise awareness of the health benefits of pets, having a pet may lower resting blood pressure. One study has even found that having a dog in the room can lower blood pressure more effectively when people are under stress than taking an ACE inhibitor, a common type of blood pressure medication.
Some studies mentioned by The Pet Effect have even found that people who have never had a cat maintain a relative risk of death from a heart attack that’s 40 percent higher.
Recently, there’s been a rise in the number of emotional support animals. Research backs up their positive effects on mental health. A recent meta-analysis of 17 research articles found that pets can, indeed, help those with mental health conditions manage their emotions and deal with the symptoms of their conditions.
Research has found that pets can help with a range of conditions, including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Studies have also shown that a visit from a therapy dog helped to reduce anxiety in patients hospitalized for heart failure. According to Pets for Vets, pets can benefit those with PTSD by helping them form social connections, encouraging feelings of love and boosting their confidence.
Having a dog encourages physical activity, which is associated with improved overall health. One study of dog owners in California found that people who have dogs are more likely to walk for leisure than those who don’t. The reasons are apparent. Dogs need walks, and having one gives you more motivation to go for a stroll regularly.
Another study found that some dog walkers walk at a pace of around three miles per hour, which is considered to be moderate-intensity exercise. Having a dog, especially an active one, may also keep you moving when you’re at home since you have to get up to feed them, let them out and play with them.
Pets also come with a range of social benefits. They provide social support, which helps to decrease stress. Having a pet can also encourage social interaction, which reduces feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Research has confirmed that walking with a dog increases the likelihood of social interaction. One study found that it was more likely to increase social interaction than dressing “smartly.” Another recent study compared the emotional and social health of participants with pets and those without them. The study found that the pet owners had higher self-esteem and were more conscientious, more extraverted, less lonely, less fearful and less preoccupied.
Having a pet may help encourage positive behavioral changes in children with autism. A recent review of the literature found that animal-assisted intervention can increase social functioning through enhanced social awareness, interaction and motivation as well as improved social skills and decreased social isolation. Studies have also shown that dogs may help improve family functioning in families with a child who has autism. Having a dog may also decrease problematic behaviors and increase feelings of security and independence.
Research suggests that having a pet can be very beneficial for older adults. The social support and motivation to exercise that pets provide can be especially important for older individuals. One study found that seniors who had a pet were better able to complete physical activities that are part of daily life, such as preparing meals, bathing, climbing stairs and taking medications. These benefits occurred in people with both dogs and cats, those who had recently gotten a pet and those who had their pet for longer.
Whether a pet is a service animal, emotional support animal or just a family pet, they can have immense benefits for their owners’ physical and mental health. The health benefits may seem obvious to pet owners, but now researchers are finding more data to back up these claims. Today, the majority of doctors believe that pets can have positive health impacts and have recommended a pet to a patient. The pet effect is very real. Animals are our best friends, and they’re also great for our mental, physical, emotional and social health.