People have known for years that caring for and bonding with animals is good for us. Chinese monks were keeping fish in bowls in the fourteenth century, dogs were kept as pets in the Middle Ages and Queen Elizabeth I is thought to have kept guinea pigs. We really don’t need scientific research to tell us what our instincts already do, but it’s great to get it confirmed that our furry friends really are a healthy lifestyle choice. Here’s why:
Lowers risk of heart attacks.
If you want to improve the health of your heart, grab a leash and an excitable furry friend and head to the great outdoors. The latest research suggests dog owners have healthier hearts than those without pets. The evidence is so compelling that the American Heart Association have released a statement saying that pet ownership, especially dogs, may be linked to lower risks of heart disease. Studies also show that dog owners have lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and lower heart rates. Of course, it may simply be that healthier, active people are more likely to have pets, but the fact remains that dog owners walk far more than most people – and therefore reap the heart benefits.
The simple act of petting our pets releases oxytocin, a hormone which relieves stress and anxiety, and reduce blood pressure. Remember it doesn’t need to be furry – stroking your tortoise will reap the same benefits (though I’m not sure if the tortoise will appreciate it so much). Even just watching animals can be relaxing. Why do you think we see so many aquariums in offices, medical centres and shops?
Those who prefer livelier animal interactions such as throwing balls and getting cats to pounce on string, also benefit. A study published in the British Medical Journal showed that playing with your pet can boost serotonin and dopamine levels while helping to lower cortisol levels.
Keeps you active.
Dog walking has to be the best ‘don’t-give-me-no-excuses’ exercises you can do. If you have a dog to walk then you have to get outside and do it, regardless of whether you’ve had a tough day at work, are going to miss your favourite TV programme or if it’s pouring with rain. Dogs are therefore great for people who find sticking to an exercise routine tricky. Low risk and low-intensity, walking your dog is also an excellent way to meet other people and ensure you soak up some Vitamin D each day.
Although the amount of exercise a dog needs varies between breeds, a quick 25 minute daily walk and you have already achieved your minimum recommended human activity minutes for the week. If you prefer more intense workouts from your canine jaunts, you could also jog, cycle or even take up cani-cross (cross country running with your dog). Of course, you will need to adapt your routine according to the breed of dog. A Jack Russell won’t appreciate joining you on your 10 mile Sunday morning run! Most dogs are great sprinters (e.g. greyhounds) while others such as Siberian Huskies are the best companions for longer distances. Do your research well and you could have an eager running partner dragging you out of the door each day.
Boosts children’s health.
There is increasing evidence that having a pet could also help improve the long-term health of your children. Recent Finnish research shows that those who live with animals during the first year of their lives have less risk of developing allergies and asthma. It is thought that the exposure to dirt and allergens carried by animals results in infants developing a stronger immune system.
Further research has shown that children who lived with a dog in their first year had less respiratory tract infections and ear infections than non-dog households. Our feline friends also provided health benefits, though not as strongly as dogs.
Boosts mood and self-esteem.
Even our moods can be affected by caring for animals. Simply talking to our pets is shown to make us feel better and boost self-esteem. After all, a beloved but mute pet is surely the most trustworthy confidant to tell our worries and concerns. Caring for animals also builds routine into daily life, which is crucial for some people who reap much mental calm from regular habits.
The elderly and people who live alone are particularly shown to benefit from the exercise and companionship of animals. Having something to care for means a person is usually more motivated to take better care of themselves. Animals also have the wonderful ability to keep us in the moment. Watching them play and grooming them helps keep us from distracting thoughts. It’s just you and them.
So if you have space in your house and time in your life for animals, forget about the fur-covered sofas and endless feeding. Instead remember you could be making a very positive step towards a healthier lifestyle for yourself and your family, and giving an animal a happy life too.
by Jessica Ward
by Kath Webb
by Jessica Ward
by Laura Briggs
by Jessica Ward