12 Ways Owning a Pet Can Contribute to Healthy Aging

Ross Quade | Health | 24 Nov, 2015 | No Comments

You likely have noticed that when you pet a cat or scratch a dog behind its ear, your heart feels all warm and fuzzy, and your body relaxes. Scientists have started to explore this physiology and how animals impact human emotions. The concluding studies indicate that owning a pet drastically benefits people’s health. This is especially the case with older adults. One study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that those older adults who owned a pet had better mental well being and health. Here are twelve ways that a pet contributes to healthy aging.


1.   Owning a Dog Leads to a Healthier Heart

If an aging adult adopts a dog, they are less likely to develop heart disease. This is because dog owners tend to exercise more and thus have lower blood pressure than those that do not have a dog. Owning a pet can also be good for those that already suffer from heart issues. For instance, people that have survived a heart attack, as well as those that have abnormal heart rhythms, live longer when they own a dog than those that do not have a pet and suffer from similar problems.


2.   Relieves Stress

As stated earlier, interacting with a dog or cat makes people feel all warm and fuzzy inside. On top of lowering their blood pressure, it also aids their body in releasing a relaxation hormone and reduces their body’s stress hormone levels. In fact, simply being in the same location as a pet can have an incredibly calming effect on a person. The neurochemical, oxytocin, is released when merely looking at a companion animal, which brings people feelings of joy. As an added plus, pets experience the same stress relief when they interact with their owner.


3.   Helps People Be More Social

Pets help people connect with others. This is especially the case for dogs, as their owners must take them out in public for their walks. This increase in social interaction is because in normal circumstances without a pet, it often is uncomfortable to start talking to a stranger out of the blue. On the other hand, it is acceptable and much easier to start a conversation with someone about their dog. Those people that use wheelchairs often claim that people make eye contact with them more often when they have a dog with them. More social interaction means a longer, happier life.


4.   Helps to Increase Fitness Levels

Owning a dog allows people to get more exercise. In fact, they tend to be better exercise companions then doing so with a friend. One study done at the University of Mississippi found that those who consistently walked their dog improved their fitness levels more than those who only went on walks with their friends. Another study found that on average dog owners walk 300 minutes per week, while those that do not own a dog walk an average of 168 minutes per week. When someone owns a dog, they are much more likely to meet his or her recommended physical activity levels, which is incredibly important for healthy aging.


5.   Contributes to Lower Cholesterol Levels

When people own a dog, the daily walks that they go on aids in keeping their cholesterol levels down according to the director of the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at the University of Mississippi, Rebecca Johnson, Ph.D. Additionally, a study done by the Australian National Heart Foundation found that those who own a dog do in fact have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels.


6.   Reduces Risk of  Cardiovascular Disease

The combination of lower blood pressure levels, stress, and the increase in fitness levels all add up to help lower people’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease later on in life. The American Heart Association endorses this theory. In fact, the AHA looked at a number of different studies that examined the impact owning a pet had on the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and came to the conclusion that owning a pet, especially a dog, substantially helps to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. Additionally, owning a pet assists in increasing the rate of survival for those patients who already suffer from heart disease.


7.   Helps Those Suffering From Depression

Pets provide a social outlet for their owners. In general, pet owners have better overall well-being than those who do not own a pet according to a study done by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Dogs especially help with people’s psychological and therapeutic well-being by lowering their stress levels and even helping in increasing their self-esteem. In aging adults, it can also promote sentiments of competence and autonomy. Both the social bond and the calming presence that pets bring to their owners can be extremely powerful. For those who have depressive tendencies, pets can give them something to concentrate on instead of negative thoughts.


8.   Helps With Chronic Pain

Having pets around the house can aid in distracting those that suffer from chronic pain. Petting an animal releases endorphins in the body, which is the same hormone that gives people a runner’s high and is the most potent natural pain reliever. This has been shown in hospitalized patients who have had an animal visit them, as they reported less pain from just one visit. One study performed by the American Journal of Critical Care found that those who were hospitalized for heart failure experienced an improvement in their cardio functioning when a pet visited them.


9.   Boost People’s Self-Esteem

Pets love their owner unconditionally, which tends to increase the owner’s self-esteem. Pets do not judge, they do not have an agenda, and they do not care how someone looks or how they behave as long as they are treated fairly. A person’s confidence levels can be significantly improved by the knowledge that a pet will love them no matter what happens. One study done by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people that owned pets had increased self-esteem, as well as feelings of having a meaningful existence and belonging than those that did not own a pet.


10.   Improves Overall Mood

Much of the health benefits of pet ownership likely stems from their emotional and mental benefits. People that own a pet tend to be less harried and find more happiness and laughter in their lives. When people come home to a pet, especially a dog, they are greeted as if they are the most important person in the entire world. This can work wonders on someone’s mood, and turn their whole day around, even if they are having a bad day. Due to the fact that many studies link an overall good mood to good health, keeping morale up is an essential component of healthy aging.


11.   Can Prevent Strokes

Although it is dogs that are usually touted for providing their owners with the most health benefits, cat owners also experience health benefits. In fact, cat owners have a 30 percent less chance of a heart attack and 40 percent less likely to have a stroke. Additionally, pets can help in the recovery of a stroke as pet owners that experience a stroke are much more likely to be alive down the road than those that do not have a pet.


12.   Can Help Those Suffering From Diabetes

A study published in the American Diabetes Association’s Diabetes Forecast Magazine found that about a third of pets that live with diabetics changed their behavior when the blood sugar levels of their owners dropped. This likely is caused by them reacting to chemical changes in their owners. This has resulted in such organizations as Dogs4Diabetics to pop up, which trains pups to be companions for those who have unstable blood glucose levels.


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