If you've ever loved a pet, you know the joy an animal can add to your life. Now mounting evidence shows that pets can do a whole lot more for your health and well-being than just bring a smile to your face. Studies suggest that animal companionship can do everything from lowering blood pressure and protecting your heart, to improving self-esteem and helping keep you fit.
"The benefits of pet ownership are probably multifaceted," says Allen R. McConnell, Ph.D., of Miami University in Ohio, whose work "Friends With Benefits: On the Positive Consequences of Pet Ownership" appeared in the July the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. "Our paper shows that people whose pets provided greater social needs fulfillment benefited more from owning pets. That is, those who found that their pet contributed to their sense of belongingness, self-worth, perceptions of control, and meaningful existence fared best."
"In addition to social needs being fulfilled by one's pet, there's evidence of physical benefits," says McConnell. These include, "getting more exercise, lower amounts of the stress hormone cortisol, and better circulatory functioning. All of these physical benefits, coupled with the psychological benefits, probably account for much of health improvement pet owners seem to enjoy."
Karen Allen, PhD, and colleagues at The State University of New York at Buffalo, followed 24 hypersensitive stockbrokers who were due to begin drug therapy for high blood pressure. Half the group was assigned randomly to adopt a dog or cat from an animal shelter, while the other half remained petless.
Results showed that medication successfully lowered resting blood pressure for all study participants, but under stressful conditions, those who had adopted a pet experienced half the increase in blood pressure as those without pets.
Blood pressure is only one aspect of health improved by pet ownership. In a 1995 study published in the American Journal of Cardiology, researchers followed 369 heart attack survivors, and found that dog owners had only a 1% chance of dying within a year, compared with a 7% chance for those without a dog. And don't rule out the benefit of cats. Recent research found that people who had a cat at some point in their lives were 37% less likely to die of a heart attack than those who didn't.
Studies suggest children raised with pets are less likely to develop allergies than those raised without. And when it comes to staying fit, a study published in a 2006 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, revealed that dog owners living in urban areas generally walk almost twice as much than their dog-free neighbors.
Clearly, having a pet to love and be loved by does a lot for one's health and happiness. Hopefully as evidence mounts, some pharmaceutical solutions to certain health conditions may be replaced by the power of the pet prescription.
Pets can help keep you healthy, but it's a two-way street. Here are some easy ways to keep your furry friends happy and in good health: