The truth is out: dogs are a (wo)man’s best friend! While it may be no secret to you, your pet is helping you out in more ways than one. In fact, having a furry companion at your side has many hidden benefits! In honor of Women’s Health Week, let’s take a look at some of the ways your pet keeps you happy and healthy.
Pets do more than just make you feel happy. They can make your body healthier too!
Pets need regular exercise and stimulation in order to maintain a healthy weight, improve heart health, and reduce boredom. Studies have shown that dog owners have a strong correlation with physical activity. Taking your dog for a walk or to play keeps you accountable for your own physical activity. Want to take it up a level? Try these activities with your pets:
- Dog Sports: Agility, flyball, and dock diving are just a few of the options to keep you and your dog’s hearts pumping!
- Hiking: Explore the great outdoors with your dog or cat by testing new trails or parks in your area.
- Fetch: It’s a classic for a reason! Change up your regular routine by switching between balls and frisbees, or go a step further by making your pup run uphill.
- Skating or Cycling: While not safe for all dogs, many dogs can go alongside their owners while they skate or ride. Here’s a tip: Always wear safety gear and stay off highly-trafficked roads.
- Obedience: While not as busy as other dog sports, practicing commands such as weaving and retrieving can offer mental stimulation, as well as light exercise.
Research suggests that owning a pet reduces your risk of heart disease and has been shown to lower blood pressure. It has also shown that pet owners have lower cholesterol and triglycerides compared to those without pets.
Did you grow up with a pet? You may have them to thank for reduced allergies. Children who live with dogs or cats from infancy are 50% less likely to develop allergies later in life.
Do you know who really likes to make new friends? Your pet! Having a pet is excellent for your social life. One survey found that almost 50% of those surveyed reported making friends while walking their dog.
So, what about pets makes it easier to socialize? First, people like to talk about pets. 54% of those surveyed also felt that owning a dog increased their confidence and allowed them to talk to strangers more easily. Phil Tedeschi, a human-pet relationship expert and Executive Director of the Institute for Human-Animal Connection at the University of Denver, explained, “Research suggests that our connections with dogs increase our social interactions, evidenced by more openness to others, initiating conversations, focusing toward other people, being more positive, increased physical activity and play, and more laughing.”
Want your dog to fetch more than a ball? Let them fetch you a date! Talking about dogs can be an easy icebreaker in the complicated world of dating. New dating apps, like Tindog, Dig, and Dog Date Afternoon, are even helping users match with fellow dog-lovers.
Have you ever had a bad day at work and then come home to a wagging tail that lifts your spirits? It seems almost impossible not to be happy when your furry friend is cuddled by your side. The reality is, this isn’t just a feeling or theory.
Over the past few decades, researchers have been studying the human-pet relationship's impact on human mental health. Studies have found that humans release oxytocin (AKA the love hormone) when we experience positive interactions with dogs. Pets can act as natural stress relievers, helping to reduce anxiety and blood pressure, among other benefits:
- Companionship: Pets help to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness.
- Social Connection: Caring for an animal promotes empathy and encourages more social contact through daily walks and dog park visits.
- Responsibility: Having responsibility for your pet’s care adds purpose to your life and can enhance feelings of self-worth.
- Routine: Keeping a regular meal and exercise schedule for your pet helps add structure to your own life.
- Vitality: Pets make us laugh and encourage a sense of playfulness.
When Times Get Tough
The mental toll of the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for everyone. However, it made the mental health benefits of having a furry companion by your side more apparent for many pet owners. In an online survey conducted by PLOS One, more than 90% of pet owners said that their furry friends helped them cope with the COVID-19 lockdowns and 96% reported that their pets were responsible for keeping them active throughout isolation.
Partners in Health
Through laughs, exercise, and friendship, our pets can help fulfill some of our most basic human needs. If you’re anxious or lonely, your pet is there to cuddle and calm you. Need a buddy for that 5k you’ve been working on? Your pet is happy to oblige. And every pet owner can tell you a funny story of some hijinks their pet has pulled that made them laugh. Science aside, pets just make us feel happier.
Suppose your life doesn’t have room to support a pet full-time right now. In that case, there are other ways to receive the benefits of animal companionship. Short periods of time can still benefit you, the animal, and organizations that could use your help!
For example, rescue organizations often need volunteers to walk dogs or play with new residents to practice socialization. Some even offer overnight programs for short-term stays to get animals acquainted with what it’s like to live in a home. If that doesn’t work, you could also try some of the emerging human-pet businesses like cat cafes to get your furry fix. Whatever you do, we hope you and an animal can share the physical and emotional benefits of companionship.