5 potential health benefits of owning a pet
Pets can add to your life in many ways, but did you know they may play a role in your health? Discover five potential health benefits of owning a pet.
In 2023, 66% of all households in the U.S. included a pet. If you're part of this majority, you already know your pet enriches your life in many ways. A poll by the American Psychiatric Association found that, overwhelmingly, people who have pets consider them members of the family and report that they have a positive impact on their mental health.
But are there really health benefits of owning a pet? Research into this topic has increased in recent years, and some of the results may be good news for pet owners. Here's a roundup of some potential health benefits of owning a pet.
1. Support heart health
People who have pets routinely say they love them — but pets may be good for your literal heart as well as your figurative one. Research shows that pet ownership lowers the risk of death from natural causes compared to non-pet-owners, especially when it comes to heart disease. These studies, which looked primarily at people who had dogs or cats at home, found that pet owners had a lower risk of high blood pressure as well as lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. All three of these components factor into heart disease risk. Pet owners also had healthier eating habits and were less likely to smoke cigarettes. This all can add up to a healthier heart!
2. Get more exercise and fresh air
Your pet may play a significant role in how much exercise and outdoor time you get. This is particularly true if you have a dog who loves to walk. People with dogs are more likely to spend time in natural outdoor environments, and they spend twice as much time leisure walking per week. According to one study, this added up to 180 minutes a week, which surpasses Center for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendation for 150 minutes of exercise per week.
Time outdoors can also help you get your daily dose of vitamin D from the sun. Low vitamin D levels are associated with a variety of health risks, from brittle bones to increased risk of infection and illness.
3. Help combat loneliness
During the COVID-19 pandemic, people who had pets reported they helped them feel more connected and alleviated loneliness during lockdown. Pets can help connect you to other humans through increased neighborhood interactions and friendships. You may develop larger, stronger social support networks as a result, which can benefit your overall health and wellness. Social isolation and loneliness are linked to increased risk of several health conditions, including Type 2 diabetes, depression, anxiety and addiction.
4. Lower stress levels
Spending time with a beloved pet can lead to lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in your blood — and that pet doesn't even have to be yours. One study found that elementary school students who had regular, short visits with dogs in the classroom didn't experience increased stress levels over the course of the school term. On the other hand, children who were given relaxation exercises or who had no intervention experienced significantly higher cortisol levels at the end of the school term.
5. Slow down and stay mindful
Animals live in the present moment, and they can remind you to do the same. Witness a kitten entranced by a ball of string or a dog intently focused on chewing a bone, and you've seen mindfulness in action. Take a cue from your pet and stop to smell the roses. Mindfulness practices like meditation can help you adopt healthy habits and manage several health conditions, including high blood pressure, pain, stress, insomnia and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
You probably didn't need another reason to love your pet, but now you have five. Even if you don't have a pet at home, you can enjoy some of these benefits by spending time with a friend's or neighbor's cat or dog. The pet and your health will thank you.