Animals can help our health

Pets provide us with companionship and unconditional love, but recent studies are showing that they might also help us with both our mental and physical health.

I live on a small farm with dogs, cats, horses, a goat and miniature donkey, and while my animals require much of my personal time and resources, they give so much more to my family and me in return. If you talked to most of the 80 million pet owners in the United States, the message would probably be much of the same: Our pets are like members of the family.

While our animals are good at providing us with companionship, love and support, did you know that they there is research confirming that pets are also good for both our mental and physical health? 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

Pets can decrease our: 

  • Blood pressure
  • Cholesterol and triglyceride levels
  • Feelings of loneliness

Pets can increase our:

  • Levels of exercise and opportunities for outdoor activities
  • Opportunities for socialization.

The American Heart Association American Heart Association (AHA) confirms these health benefits with various studies that show owning a pet can help lower the risk of heart disease.  Dr. Glenn N. Levine, a cardiologist with the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Administration Medical Center in Houston, is a lead author of the new scientific statement, by the AHA, which looks at the influence of pets on heart health.  Dr. Levine states, “Over the last decade or so there have been periodic reports on the association between pet ownership and cardiovascular risk.”  One of the primary reasons pet owners may have healthier hearts points to the fact that some animals, like dogs, require exercise. If a dog owner takes their dog on regular walks, he/she is more likely to achieve their recommended daily level of physical activity.

Other health benefits associated with regular contact with companion animals includes:

  • alleviation of childhood allergies
  • boosting immune function
  • decreasing asthma
  • lowering stress
  • therapeutic benefits for Alzheimer patients and kids with autism.

Michigan State University Extension reminds us that pet ownership requires time, responsibility and commitment. If you decide to get a pet, do it for the primary reason of providing an animal with a loving home, not just for the purpose of looking for a way to improve your health.

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