When pet owners think about why they love having animals, chances are they will tell you it’s because of the companionship and comfort of having a friend. Animals provide unconditional love, many pet owners will say. They also give people motivation and purpose in life, which might otherwise not exist.
The latest research shows that pets provide us more than just a friend, they may be providing a number of health benefits, too. Studies have found that pet ownership may result in the reduction in certain risk factors and diseases like heart disease, stroke, and dementia and cut pet owners’ chances of needing long term care.
Pets, Health, and Long Term Care
Heart disease currently ranks as the number 1 killer in the United States. 600,000 Americans die of heart disease every year, and the numbers have only increased over time. Stroke is the 4th leading cause of death in the United States, killing nearly 130,000 Americans annually, and it is caused by mainly the same risk factors as heart disease.
Both of these diseases commonly lead to the need for long term care, which is care provided to someone who is too ill, fragile, or disabled to complete certain basic daily tasks on their own. Long term care is increasingly expensive, so cutting your chances of needing care by addressing your risk of disease is critical for both your health and your wallet.
According to recent research, pets can improve health by reducing certain risk factors for poor health. Research has found that having a pet helps lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and triglyceride levels, which are all major risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
Why the Benefit?
Having a pet increases the opportunities for exercise and makes people more likely to spend time being active outside, whether it is going for a walk or playing with their dog in the yard. According to the CDC, just 48% of adults meet the US physical activity guidelines, which recommend weekly exercise of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity and strength training on 2 days.
Unfortunately, too many Americans spend their day sitting all day long at desk jobs and don’t incorporate physical activity to help keep their risk factors of disease and their chances of needing long term care low. Having a pet, especially a dog, can change that.
The American Heart Association found that in a study of more than 5,200 adults, dog owners were 54 percent more likely to get the recommended level of physical activity. The regular exercise you get with a dog also significantly reduces the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s, because physical activity requires the brain to work quickly and efficiently and helps maintain good blood flow to the brain. Exercise helps re-grow the aging brain, which typically shrinks over time without exercise, and can prevent cognitive decline later in life.
Having a pet helps reduce the risk of dementia in more than one way. Pet ownership also helps prevent loneliness and reduce anxiety, which have both been linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Pets provide companionship and a sense of purpose that can help reduce depression and social isolation, keeping people happy, which adds to their health.
High stress, especially during mid-life, has been linked to a higher dementia risk, but pets can help that, too. WebMD explains that in addition to calming your cat or dog, petting it can also lower your blood pressure and cut back on stress hormones in the body.
Considering all the health benefits having a pet provides humans, it’s no wonder that an Australian survey found that dog and cat owners made fewer annual doctor visits than non-pet owners. Having a dog or a cat can help improve your health and provide you with a long time companion at the same time. If you decide to adopt a dog, just be sure you aren’t doing it solely for the health benefits. Pets require a certain amount of responsibility, time, and dedication, so don’t take the plunge if you aren’t ready for those long term commitments.
If you want the perks of a pet without having to commit for a lifetime, read more into the benefits of fostering.