The Power of Pets

Pets come with some pretty powerful mental health benefits. Here’s how caring for animals can help you cope with depression, anxiety, and stress.

The health benefits of pets

Pets are acutely attuned to humans and our behavior and emotions. Dogs, for example, are able to interpret our tone of voice, body language, and gestures. A loyal dog will look into your eyes to gauge your emotional state and try to understand what you’re thinking and feeling.

Pets can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, ease loneliness, promote exercise and playfulness, and improve your cardiovascular health. Caring for an animal can help children grow up more secure and active. Pets also provide valuable companionship for older adults. Most importantly, though, a pet can add happiness, and unconditional love to your life.

Studies have found that:

  • Pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets.
  • Playing with a dog or cat can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax the mind and body.
  • Pet owners over age 65 make 30 percent fewer visits to their doctors than those without pets.
  • While people with pets often experience the greatest health benefits, a pet doesn’t necessarily have to be a dog or a cat. Even watching fish in an aquarium can help reduce muscle tension and lower pulse rate.

One of the reasons for these therapeutic effects is that pets fulfill the basic human need for touch. Stroking, hugging, or otherwise touching a loving animal can rapidly calm and soothe you when you’re stressed or anxious. The companionship of a pet can also ease loneliness, and most dogs are a great stimulus for healthy exercise, which also boosts your mood and eases depression.

How pets can help you make healthy lifestyle changes

Caring for a pet can help you make healthy lifestyle changes by:

  1. Increasing exercise

Taking a dog for a walk, run or hike is fun and rewarding ways to fit daily exercise into your schedule.

  1. Companionship

Companionship can help prevent illness and even add years to your life, while isolation and loneliness can trigger symptoms of depression. Caring for a live animal can help make you feel needed and take the focus away from your problems, especially if you live alone.

  1. Expand your Social Circle

Dog owners frequently stop and talk to each other on walks, hikes, or in the dog park. Dog owners also meet new people in pet stores and training classes.

  1. Reduce Anxiety

The companionship of an animal can offer comfort, ease anxiety, and build self-confidence for people anxious about going out into the world.

  1. Provide Structure

Many pets, especially dogs, require a regular feeding and exercise schedule. Having a consistent routine keeps an animal balanced and calm—and it can work for you, too.

  1. Stress Relief

Touch and movement are two healthy ways to manage stress. Petting an animal can lower blood pressure and help you quickly feel calmer and less stressed.

The health benefits of pets for older adults

As well as providing vital companionship, owning a pet can play an important role in healthy aging by helping you to:

Find Meaning and Joy

Caring for a pet can bring pleasure and help boost your morale, optimism, and sense of self-worth.

Stay Connected

Maintaining a social network isn’t always as easy as you grow older. Retirement, illness, death, and relocation can take away close friends and family members. Pets, especially dogs, are a great way for older adults to spark up conversations and meet new people.

Boost Vitality

Dogs and cats encourage playfulness, laughter, and exercise, which can help boost your immune system and increase your energy.

Owning a pet is a major commitment

A pet is not a cure for mental illness. Owning a pet is beneficial and comforting only for those who love and appreciate domestic animals and have the time and money to keep a pet happy and healthy.

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