As it turns out, the 95 percent of people who think of their pets as members of their families have good reason to do so. Pets are more than just cute, furry faces that welcome you home each day. Pet ownership provides many health benefits for people, including physical, mental, and emotional benefits. From boosting babies’ immune systems to increasing exercise levels in adults, pets help their owners in numerous ways.

What Health Aspects Can Pets Decrease, Lower, and Prevent?

Pets can provide heart-healthy perks for their owners. Pet owners have significantly lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels than those who don’t own pets. Cat owners in particular are 30 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack and 40 percent less likely to have a cardiovascular incident such as a stroke. And if you do have a heart attack, pets can aid in your recovery. Dog owners are significantly more likely to be alive 12 months after a heart attack. This is important, because people age 50 and younger have almost twice the risk of premature death after a heart attack among one-year survivors compared to the general population.

When children are around dogs and cats from infancy, they’re less likely to develop allergies to those animals later in life. Babies born with a cat or dog at home are half as likely to be allergic to them. Experts believe that “early exposure to pet allergens and pet-related bacteria strengthens the immune system, accustoms the body to allergens, and helps the child build up a natural immunity.” However, exposure to pets anytime after the first year of life has no effect, so the timing really is everything.

Living with a pet can help combat feelings of loneliness as well, which can improve mental and emotional health, even for those who have struggled with a debilitating condition like substance abuse or depression. For example, dog ownership comes with many benefits like providing feelings of comfort, calmness, happiness, and love. You always have a companion around who’s willing to play or cuddle. Pets, especially dogs, can also reduce stress.

What Health Aspects Can Pets Increase and Improve?

Dogs need daily exercise, which usually comes in the form of walks. For their owners, the daily walks are part of their own exercise regimen. Besides improving cardiovascular health, brisk walking also improves lung capacity, bone health, muscle tone, and flexibility. Several studies have shown that dog owners get more exercise per week than those who don’t own dogs. They’re also more likely to meet the federal criteria for regular exercise and have higher levels of overall physical activity. Additionally, dog owners are more likely to participate in other leisurely physical activities, such as gardening.

During those daily walks, owners are likely to encounter other people, many of whom they will stop and talk with. Increased socialization may improve an individual’s physiological and psychological health. One study found that pet owners were more socially engaged than non-pet owners. Another study found that pet ownership led to an increase in social contact, more socialization between neighbors, and a stronger perception that the neighborhood was friendly.

The mental and emotional benefits may be the most valuable perks of pet ownership, and they’re one of the reasons pets are used in various forms of therapy. For example, some hospitals and medical offices use dogs to help soldiers dealing with PTSD. The veterans are able to reenter society more easily and have a decreased suicide rate. Pets are also helpful for children with autism or ADHD. Caring for a pet encourages children with ADHD to focus on responsibilities through a predictable routine, and the sensory experience of touching an animal can be comforting for autistic children.

The unconditional love your pet provides is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to pet ownership. You can improve your heart health, reduce stress, increase physical activity, boost socialization, and so much more. Whether you own a cat, dog, horse, or bunny, spending time with your furry friend can do wonders for your overall physical health and mental well-being.

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