Shil1978 is a science buff with 11 years of experience writing about of psychology and related-topics.
Did you know pets can improve both your physical and emotional health? Those who have pets would readily agree that animal companions can have an immensely positive effect on you. However, most of us don't really know what these positive effects are in concrete terms. We just think of them as the general good feelings we get when we are around our pets, but they can offer numerous real benefits.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that having a pet can decrease your blood pressure, can decrease cholesterol levels, and can also decrease triglyceride levels. They also say that pets can increase your opportunities for exercise, outdoor activities, and increase your opportunities for socialization.
Here are the top four benefits pets can have on our physical and emotional health.
Four Health Benefits of Having Pets
1. Pets Make You More Active
Pets invariably make us more active than we otherwise would have been. Imagine idling your time away doing nothing at all, just sitting on the couch, watching TV, and snacking on potentially unhealthy and fattening foods. Is that beneficial for your health? A pet like a dog can give you a good workout and an active lifestyle, which can do wonders for your heart. You can get some exercise walking your dog or playing with your dog. Dogs are active animals and they transfer this active lifestyle to you as well, thus benefiting you immensely.
Several studies have demonstrated that dog owners may get more exercise than the rest of us. One NIH-funded study looked at more than 2,000 individuals and found that dog owners who regularly walked their dogs were more physically active and less likely to be obese than those who did not own or walk a dog.
2. Pets Are Good Stress Busters
Pets can greatly reduce the stresses in our lives and hence be good for your blood pressure and heart. How often have you returned home totally stressed out and drained from a difficult day at work only to be greeted by your favorite cat or dog, instantly cheering you up and elevating your mood? Less stress = a healthy heart and body. Imagine all the stress that would add up day after day without any release. If you are single and living alone without a companion especially, handling life's stresses can be overwhelming, more so if you are prone to depression. A pet makes life easier than it is.
One National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded study looked at 421 adults who had suffered heart attacks. A year later, the scientists found that dog owners were significantly more likely to still be alive than those who did not own dogs, irrespective of the severity of the heart attack. A study that looked at 240 married couples found that those who owned a pet had lower heart rates and blood pressure than those without pets. Pet owners were also seen to have milder responses and quicker recovery from stress when they were with their pets than with a spouse or a friend.
3. Pets Can Earn You New Friends And Dates
Pets provide good socialization opportunities, especially for the introvert and shy individual, but also for non-introverts. Pets can become the talking point. You may be stopped and approached by someone keen to know the breed of your dog or any tricks your dog may be showing off that they were attracted to. So even without having to make the first move, you may end up becoming friends with lots of strangers, some of whom you may very well grow to love and date in the future.
Having a pet, therefore, provides you much greater socialization opportunities than you might otherwise have.
4. Pets Give Love Without Asking for Anything in Return
Last but not least, pets provide you unconditional companionship and love. They have no expectations in terms of money or other material benefits that some real-world friends may have. They aren't judging you or putting on a mask.
We live in a world where some of our so-called friends are increasingly selfish and self-centered, always expecting things from us and sometimes backstabbing us. Pets offer us companionship and love free of charge and without any malice or hidden agendas. They offer you love and you love them for who they are. There is no danger of being unfriended or cut out. You can always count on your pet to be there for you when you need them.
Worried About Your Kids Getting Allergies From Pets?
The conventional wisdom is that having pets is a bad idea with respect to allergies, especially if you have kids in your family, as they are more prone to developing allergies than adults. However, recent research by Dr. James E. Gern, a pediatrician at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, suggests that kids growing up with pets have a lesser risk of developing allergies and asthma. This is as a result of reduced allergic sensitization.
Dr. Gern's research indicates that children growing up with pets, having exposure to allergens through early childhood, develop a stronger immune system than children who grow up in families that have no pets. However, if there is already an allergic history in the family to certain animals, then it is probably best to avoid those animals as pets.
With all of the above benefits, it might be a good idea to consider having a pet, if you don't already have one. Choose a pet based on your particular situation and lifestyle. I love cats and dogs in particular. I think they make the best pets, as they benefit equally from having your companionship. There is no "owning" of the pet with them. You aren't imprisoning them.
So choose your pet wisely and look forward to a better and healthier lifestyle. With a pet, you will always have a friend and companion to turn to and never feel alone.
© 2013 Shil1978
Top Health Benefits of Owning a Pet
Many people don't know that owning a pet can provide several health benefits. The bond that's created between human and pet dates back thousands of years.
According to the Cancer Nutrition Centers of America, heart attack patients who own a pet are more likely to survive longer than those who do not have a furry friend. Pet owners also make up to 20 percent fewer doctors visits than non-pet owners.
You may want to consider getting a pet to call your own if you want to lower your cholesterol levels and improve your overall psychological well-being.
Senior citizens with Alzheimer's disease can benefit from having a tank full of brightly colored fish, as it can improve their eating habits and cut back on disruptive behaviors.
The benefits are also great for children. When they're exposed to pets during their first year of life, kids have a lesser chance of developing asthma and allergies.
Animal Planet said that owning a pet is an ideal way to get out and meet other people because your animal serves as an instant icebreaker. Head to your local dog park or outdoor cafe, and you'll be sure to strike up a conversation with someone. Probably another pet owner. This will improve both you and your dog's socialization skills.
Pets help reduce your stress levels because they can make people feel at ease. Chronic stress can cause a plethora of other health problems, so having a cat or dog in your home can help take some of the stress out of your life.
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The Power of Pets
Health Benefits of Human-Animal Interactions
Nothing compares to the joy of coming home to a loyal companion. The unconditional love of a pet can do more than keep you company. Pets may also decrease stress, improve heart health, and even help children with their emotional and social skills.
An estimated 68% of U.S. households have a pet. But who benefits from an animal? And which type of pet brings health benefits?
Over the past 10 years, NIH has partnered with the Mars Corporation’s WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition to answer questions like these by funding research studies.
Scientists are looking at what the potential physical and mental health benefits are for different animals—from fish to guinea pigs to dogs and cats.
Possible Health Effects
Research on human-animal interactions is still relatively new. Some studies have shown positive health effects, but the results have been mixed.
Interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure. Other studies have found that animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost your mood.
The NIH/Mars Partnership is funding a range of studies focused on the relationships we have with animals. For example, researchers are looking into how animals might influence child development. They’re studying animal interactions with kids who have autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and other conditions.
“There’s not one answer about how a pet can help somebody with a specific condition,” explains Dr. Layla Esposito, who oversees NIH’s Human-Animal Interaction Research Program. “Is your goal to increase physical activity? Then you might benefit from owning a dog. You have to walk a dog several times a day and you’re going to increase physical activity. If your goal is reducing stress, sometimes watching fish swim can result in a feeling of calmness. So there’s no one type fits all.”
NIH is funding large-scale surveys to find out the range of pets people live with and how their relationships with their pets relate to health.
“We’re trying to tap into the subjective quality of the relationship with the animal—that part of the bond that people feel with animals—and how that translates into some of the health benefits,” explains Dr. James Griffin, a child development expert at NIH.
Animals Helping People
Animals can serve as a source of comfort and support. Therapy dogs are especially good at this. They’re sometimes brought into hospitals or nursing homes to help reduce patients’ stress and anxiety.
“Dogs are very present. If someone is struggling with something, they know how to sit there and be loving,” says Dr. Ann Berger, a physician and researcher at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. “Their attention is focused on the person all the time.”
Berger works with people who have cancer and terminal illnesses. She teaches them about mindfulness to help decrease stress and manage pain.
“The foundations of mindfulness include attention, intention, compassion, and awareness,” Berger says. “All of those things are things that animals bring to the table. People kind of have to learn it. Animals do this innately.”
Researchers are studying the safety of bringing animals into hospital settings because animals may expose people to more germs. A current study is looking at the safety of bringing dogs to visit children with cancer, Esposito says. Scientists will be testing the children’s hands to see if there are dangerous levels of germs transferred from the dog after the visit.
Dogs may also aid in the classroom. One study found that dogs can help children with ADHD focus their attention. Researchers enrolled two groups of children diagnosed with ADHD into 12-week group therapy sessions. The first group of kids read to a therapy dog once a week for 30 minutes. The second group read to puppets that looked like dogs.
Kids who read to the real animals showed better social skills and more sharing, cooperation, and volunteering. They also had fewer behavioral problems.
Another study found that children with autism spectrum disorder were calmer while playing with guinea pigs in the classroom. When the children spent 10 minutes in a supervised group playtime with guinea pigs, their anxiety levels dropped. The children also had better social interactions and were more engaged with their peers. The researchers suggest that the animals offered unconditional acceptance, making them a calm comfort to the children.
“Animals can become a way of building a bridge for those social interactions,” Griffin says. He adds that researchers are trying to better understand these effects and who they might help.
Animals may help you in other unexpected ways. A recent study showed that caring for fish helped teens with diabetes better manage their disease. Researchers had a group of teens with type 1 diabetes care for a pet fish twice a day by feeding and checking water levels. The caretaking routine also included changing the tank water each week. This was paired with the children reviewing their blood glucose (blood sugar) logs with parents.
Researchers tracked how consistently these teens checked their blood glucose. Compared with teens who weren’t given a fish to care for, fish-keeping teens were more disciplined about checking their own blood glucose levels, which is essential for maintaining their health.
While pets may bring a wide range of health benefits, an animal may not work for everyone. Recent studies suggest that early exposure to pets may help protect young children from developing allergies and asthma. But for people who are allergic to certain animals, having pets in the home can do more harm than good.
Helping Each Other
Pets also bring new responsibilities. Knowing how to care for and feed an animal is part of owning a pet. NIH/Mars funds studies looking into the effects of human-animal interactions for both the pet and the person.
Remember that animals can feel stressed and fatigued, too. It’s important for kids to be able to recognize signs of stress in their pet and know when not to approach. Animal bites can cause serious harm.
“Dog bite prevention is certainly an issue parents need to consider, especially for young children who don’t always know the boundaries of what’s appropriate to do with a dog,” Esposito explains.
Researchers will continue to explore the many health effects of having a pet. “We’re trying to find out what’s working, what’s not working, and what’s safe—for both the humans and the animals,” Esposito says.
1. Natural Everyday Movement
Much of the focus on pets providing health has been on dog walking. But anyone who owns a pet knows there are numerous incidental physical activities associated with pet ownership вЂ” like getting up to feed their pet ensuring the petвЂ™s food and water is available and looking after pet вЂњaccommodation.вЂќ
Reducing prolonged sitting and increasing incidental domestic activity have both been shown to be protective with regard to health risks.
Pets provide nudges to everyday movement.
"The old thinking was that if your family had a pet, the children were more likely to become allergic to the pet. And if you came from an allergy-prone family, pets should be avoided," says researcher James E. Gern, MD, a pediatrician at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
However, a growing number of studies have suggested that kids growing up in a home with "furred animals" -- whether it's a pet cat or dog, or on a farm and exposed to large animals -- will have less risk of allergies and asthma, he tells WebMD.
In his recent study, Gern analyzed the blood of babies immediately after birth and one year later. He was looking for evidence of an allergic reaction, immunity changes, and for reactions to bacteria in the environment.
If a dog lived in the home, infants were less likely to show evidence of pet allergies -- 19% vs. 33%. They also were less likely to have eczema, a common allergy skin condition that causes red patches and itching. In addition, they had higher levels of some immune system chemicals -- a sign of stronger immune system activation.
"Dogs are dirty animals, and this suggests that babies who have greater exposure to dirt and allergens have a stronger immune system," Gern says.