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The benefits of having a pet in your life

Pets are always there for us, they never judge, they comfort us when we’re upset and make us make us laugh too.

They bring us so much joy that it’s no wonder the UK is a nation of pet lovers.  There is growing research to suggest that having a pet isn’t only fun but they are also good for our health, whether they be furry, feathered or scaly. So it is not surprising then in 2016 it is estimated that 40% of households have pets.

Having a pet can benefit us both physically and mentally in so many ways:

A pet can increase your fitness levels

For dog owners in particular, having a pet can lead to a host of other benefits to your health, along with making you fitter. This is especially the case with older adults who walk a dog regularly. It is shown they see their doctor less, do more exercise and have a lower body mass index.

Studies have shown that as the bond grows with your canine friend you are likely to walk more regularly and for longer.

Having a healthy heart

Walking regularly can keep your heart healthy.  It can lower your blood pressure and your cholesterol level; reduce the risk of cardiac disease and heart failure.  Researchers from the American Heart Association found that owning a dog, in particular, is most likely to be associated with reducing the chances of developing coronary heart disease.

In a further study, researchers discovered that owning a cat can protect the human heart.  They found that living with a cat in the house reduced the chances of having a stroke highlighting not only the health benefits from exercising with your pet but also having a pet can reduce your stress levels which results in physical benefits too.

Being more sociable

Going outside with your dog can lead to increased social interaction and sense of connection with your community.  Pets can help their owners create friendships and find social support, both of which are good for long-term mental health.  It is very important, especially for older people, to have contact with others. It has been shown that people are more likely to chat to you if you have a pet and so being a pet owner may go some way to reducing the likelihood of being socially isolated and increasing your chances of living longer.

Not so lonely

If you live by yourself, the company of a pet can help you feel less lonely.  Not only do they encourage feelings of responsibility in caring for an animal and give you a routine, but they also help you create a wider social network, as well as being fun to have around too.  A pet can, therefore, enhance your quality of life and improve your mental wellbeing.

Having a strong bond with your pet can be as beneficial as having a healthy human relationship.  Pets are always happy to see you, don’t let you down, always listen and never answer back so they can be the perfect companion, especially to someone who lives alone.

A study carried out in 2009 discovered that, compared with non-pet owners, over sixties who lived by themselves were four times less likely to develop clinical depression.

General wellbeing

Although it has not been proven that owning a dog will reduce heart issues they definitely come up trumps in the wellbeing stakes.  Compared with people who own cats, dog owners have an increased sense of general wellbeing.  And overall it has been shown that those who own pets are happier than those without.

Longer-term problems

Pets can help with longer-term mental health problems.

If you are trying to manage a long-term condition a pet will give you companionship and may even be a distraction from any symptoms.  Pets can relieve stress and so can play a major part in keeping you on an even keel.

Stress Busters

Studies have shown that pets are great ways of lowering your stress levels.  New York’s Buffalo University undertook some research that showed people who owned pets were less likely to suffer from stress and got over any symptoms much more quickly.  Other research took two groups of people with high blood pressure, the first group bought a pet and the second didn’t, after six months both groups were tested again and it revealed that those people who owned a pet had lower physical stress levels than those who didn’t.

Fewer allergies

Unfortunately, people who are allergic to animals understandably may not wish to have one in the house.  However, did you know that early childhood exposure to pets has been shown to lower the risk of developing allergic reactions later in life?  So conditions such as asthma and eczema may be reduced especially in children 4 years and under if they grow up with a pet.

Some more reading

Tips to help build resilience

How to look after your heart

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