There’s no denying that dogs, cats, and other pets add a certain level of cuteness to your life. But, as all pet owners know, your furry best friend can do so much more for you than just look adorable. As it turns out, they can also help deliver a serious boost to your physical health.
Let’s take a look at five ways your four-legged friend can make you a healthier person:
Your dog can help you get more exercise. The American Heart Association recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week. Most people don’t hit that benchmark—but if you have a dog, you’re far more likely to get the exercise you need.
A recent New York Times study found that most dog owners spent about 300 minutes per week walking their dog—well over the 150 recommended minutes per week (and 200 minutes more per week than people who don’t have a dog).
Your cat can help you fight stress. Not a dog person? No worries. Having a feline friend comes with its own set of health benefits—most notably when it comes to combating stress. “Cats can reduce stress and anxiety in their owners, resulting in lower heart rate and blood pressure,” says Dr. Nikola Djordjevic, MD. “Research has shown a decrease in cardiovascular diseases in cat owners.”
That said, cats aren’t the only ones that can help you destress after a long day. Researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia found that petting a dog for just 15 minutes can lower blood pressure by 10 percent. This is because petting a dog also releases a cascade of feel-good hormones (including serotonin and oxytocin), which can help combat stress by reducing cortisol levels.
Pets can boost immune function. Chances are your pet loves going outside. But regular outdoor adventures with your four-legged friend can do more than just make your pet happy—it can also help improve your immune function. “Pets who go outside bring back home beneficial bacteria,” says Djordjevic. “The more exposure we have to bacteria, the stronger our immune response is.”
Your dog can help monitor chronic conditions. Clearly, being a pet owner has a variety of health benefits. But if you’re already struggling with your health—and have a chronic condition—your pet might be able to be trained help with that too.
“One of the most impressive things about dogs, in my opinion, is disease recognition. There are a lot of dogs that can be trained to help people manage chronic conditions such as diabetes, syncope (fainting), and even seizures,” says Dr. Mason Romero, DVM, Veterinary Advisor for BetterPet. “Dogs are trained to recognize certain signs with their owner and will alert them if their blood sugar is getting low or if they sense their owner is about to have a seizure.”
Your pet can give you a sense of purpose. We all want to feel like we have a sense of meaning and purpose—and for many pet owners, that sense of meaning and purpose comes from their pet. “One way that owning a pet can improve one’s health is the sense of meaning it can provide,” says Seattle-based clinical psychologist Jon Reeves. “Caring for another living being has the lovely effect of increasing the sphere of our responsibility beyond our own happiness and satisfaction.”
All in all, pets can make your health, and your life, so much better. Make sure to show your four-legged friend some extra love today—and reap the health benefits in the process.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.