We added a four-legged puffball to our family last week and although it has been a lot of work, the joy she has brought us so has far outweighed the chewing and the accidents. In fact, in most cases having a pet brings not only joy and love, but also health benefits. From weight loss to smoking cessation, lower blood pressure to a more positive mental outlook, having pets in our lives offers many surprising health benefits.
Exercise and Heart Health
A recent study suggests pet ownership can moderate the imbalance caused by diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, and high triglyceride levels on our body’s cardiac autonomic nervous activity, possibly because pets improve our emotional state. Research also shows that pet owners who have coronary artery disease show a greater one-year survival rate than non-owners, regardless of their heart attack’s severity.
Studies in Canada, Australia and Japan have shown that dog ownership promotes physical activity. Dog owners are 57% to 77% more likely to achieve sufficient physical activity than people who didn’t own dogs. Along with being more active, people who walked their dogs had a lower body mass and were less likely to report having diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and depression.
Recent studies using therapy dogs in medical settings or pets at home have shown:
• Lower pain levels and increased satisfaction with hospital stays among patients getting total joint replacements.
• Significant improvement for pain, mood, and other measures of distress among outpatients with fibromyalgia.
• Willingness to walk earlier among patients hospitalized with chronic heart failure, resulting in shorter hospital stays and improved outcomes.
• Increased wound healing and immune health.
Having a pet helps children become more responsible. But that is not the only benefit for kids. Studies show the benefits extend to mental, cognitive, emotional and physical aspects as well.
• As with adults, children who have dogs are less likely to be obese, especially if encouraged to play with and walk their dogs.
• The more contact children had with dogs and cats during their first year of life, the less likely they are to have respiratory illness or ear infections, or to require antibiotics. Researchers believe this resistance to respiratory illnesses might continue during childhood. They are also less likely to develop asthma and allergies.
• Having dogs in an educational setting reduces stress while promoting concentration, attention and motivation.
• Having a pet gives children a source of comfort and helps them develop empathy. This is also true for children with autism, who are sometimes better able to interact with pets, which may in turn help them interact with people. In several studies, simply the presence of a dog during occupational therapy resulted in greater use of language and social interaction.
Pets and the elderly
Older people also benefit from being around pets.
• Pet ownership or contact with animals among the elderly, who are often isolated, promotes social interaction and decreases loneliness.
• Older people who walk their dogs enjoy greater mobility inside their homes.