How pets can make you healthier

When I was younger, I wanted to be a veterinarian. Many of my toys were of the animal variety, and I’ve always cooed over every dog, cat, rabbit, guinea pig or any other animal I’ve ever seen. Animals are fantastic, and I love having them around me to pick up my spirits and to make me healthier.

That’s right: my darling dog, who finds it infinitely entertaining to roll in and eat garbage and other unmentionables, makes me healthier. How so? Varying research has proven that pets help with many health benefits, including:

  1. More activity
    I am the Queen of the Couch. I could lounge on it all day long, but it is my dog that helps me get up and moving. I know she needs exercise to stay healthy, and so we go out for daily walks to keep her in shape, as well as me. Research from the National Institutes for Health studied 2,000 individuals who walked dogs regularly. They were in better shape, and less likely to become obese, than those who did not walk a dog.
  2. Greater self esteem
    Research from the American Psychological Association agrees with a theory that I’ve had about my pets for many years: they are “important sources of social and emotional support for ‘everyday people,’ not just individuals with significant health challenges.” (Read our post on how horses help ease Alzheimer’s symptoms here.) Pet owners are happier, healthier and better adjusted than non owners, in addition to having increased feelings of belonging, self-esteem and meaningful existence.
  3. Lower your stress
    We could all use a little less stress in our life. So, get a pet! Take heed from the American Journal of Cardiology. A study from 2011 showed that pet owner’s hearts adapted better to non-pet owners hearts. In other words: If there’s a “take your dog to work day” event at work, take your four-legged friend! It’ll make the day go by faster, and your heart will thank you for it.
  4. Happier heart in general
    Pets do so much for your heart that we needed to break it into two parts. The American Heart Association says that having a pet can help reduce your risk of heart disease. This may be tied into pet owners getting more exercise (see number one). Pets have also been shown to help lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Additionally, pet owners with cardiovascular disease are more likely to survive heart attacks! Marching orders from your doctor: Get yourself a pet.
  5. Protection against allergies
    Your pet can have allergies, but having a pet can actually help reduce the effects of your allergies, especially in young children. Being exposed to pet dander early in life—particularly for children under the age of one who had two or more dogs or cats as pets—could result in a reduction in allergy development throughout the years.
  6. Get social
    In addition to your pet making you more active, your pet can also help you become more social. A study in the Applied Developmental Science journal showed that young adults with strong attachments to their pets feel more connected to their relationships and communities.
  7. Live longer
    Pets have been proven to make life better in a lot of ways. They can also help you live longer, too. Pets improve quality of life, happiness and give a sense of well-being, experts say.

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