People who love their pets know they can provide emotional and psychological benefits; but did you also know they can improve health?
Studies have demonstrated the beneficial effects of pets in terms of blood pressure reduction, stress hormone cortisol levels reduction and increased feel-good chemicals oxytocin and serotonin production. They can even assist people to cope with depression and anxiety more effectively.
1. Reduces Stress
Pets offer their owners companionship and affection that can help reduce anxiety, depression and loneliness while supporting healthy exercise and eating habits. That’s why more hospitals, nursing homes, schools and rehabilitation centers are adopting animal-assisted therapy into their programs.
Studies show that simply touching animals can lower both blood pressure and cortisol levels – the stress hormone often associated with fear, anxiety and worry – by as much as 18 points. Pet owners also tend to have lower resting heart rates and anxiety levels which could potentially prevent further health problems in themselves and those around them.
Pets don’t judge people based on appearance, performance or past mistakes – instead providing unconditional love and being nonjudgmental companions when needed. Pets provide emotional support that’s especially useful to those living with chronic illnesses or are elderly and lonely; engaging with pets also teaches children responsibility while teaching adults the benefits of keeping a regular schedule.
2. Increases Self-Esteem
Pets provide emotional support that builds self-esteem in children. Pets give children a sense of responsibility and love that allows them to express their sadness or frustration in ways adults cannot.
Science Magazine conducted a 2012 study which demonstrated how simply touching, hugging and looking into each other’s eyes increases levels of the hormone oxytocin, similar to what’s produced when parents gaze into the eyes of newborn babies. Oxytocin helps relieve stress while improving mood and feelings of wellbeing.
Most pet owners maintain a consistent routine with their animals, such as feeding, grooming and walking them. This teaches children mindfulness as they gain responsibility that can carry over to other relationships in life. Furthermore, this exposure allows children to see first-hand how their actions impact on the animals they care for.
3. Boosts Immune System
interactions with animals and pets offer numerous health advantages, from increasing oxytocin to decreasing cortisol levels and strengthening immune systems. Interacting with animals also teaches children responsibility, compassion and empathy – while those raised around pets tend to develop less allergies or asthma symptoms later in life.
Pets can help senior adults overcome feelings of isolation and depression while making them feel more active and energized, which may assist with managing chronic diseases. Pets also serve as great conversation starters when people are socially isolated or shy.
Studies have demonstrated that living with dogs or cats significantly alters the diversity of microorganism in one’s gut, thought to benefit immunity by increasing exposure to more bacteria. Infants exposed to dogs in the first year of life had lower rates of allergies and eczema compared with infants without dogs at home, as well as higher antibody levels against certain allergens.
4. Improves Mental Health
Studies have demonstrated the positive impacts of spending time with pets: decreased loneliness, improved happiness, calming anxiety and alleviating social discomfort. Petting an animal has also been shown to reduce cortisol and blood pressure levels while simultaneously increasing feel-good hormones like serotonin levels in your body.
People living with serious mental health conditions often find comfort in having pets as companions. A 2016 study concluded that pets such as dogs, cats, hamsters and even fish provide their owners with a sense of belonging and meaning as well as distraction from distressing symptoms like hearing voices or having suicidal thoughts and rumination.
Pets provide a nonjudgmental space in which we can share our hopes, fears and worries without judgment from others. They’re great listeners who share an enduring appreciation with their owners. In partnership with Mars, NIH funded multiple studies exploring the many ways animals improve emotional and physical wellbeing; their results were fascinating! And only just beginning to reveal how we may use our relationship with animals as part of a strategy to promote overall wellbeing.