Pets can help ease stress, anxiety

By Meredith, Pure Matters

Do our pets really have health benefits on our lives? I say yes. I’ll admit it: My best friend has four legs, is tri-colored, and frequently drools. Her name is Indiana, and she’s a cat.

I’m a firm believer that my pets make me happy and keep me healthy -- there’s nothing more restorative to me than a play session or an evening spent reading with Indy curled up in my lap. While research into the health benefits of pets is still being explored, there’s evidence to support those feelgood feelings our pets give us. A 2011 study conducted at Miami University of Ohio found that pet owners were more likely to be fit, confident, and extroverted -- and less likely to be lonely.

With pet ownership at a soaring rate -- statistics from the Humane Society show that there are 78 million dogs in the U.S. and about 86 million cats -- there are a lot of humans potentially reaping an awful lot of health benefits. Let me just name a few ….

Pets Make Us Happy

Recent research showed that petting a dog causes increased levels of the hormone oxytocin (that’s the one that’s often also called “the cuddle hormone” because it helps fight feelings of stress and anxiety). If you’re feeling stressed, now you’ve got a reason to head home and spend time with your pooch. Don’t have a dog? Take a stroll through a local dog park and I bet you’ll make a fast friend. If you prefer cats, it’s not too much of a stretch to assume the same benefit extends to felines. (And unless the cat is an unfriendly, scratching-type, it’s not like petting a cat is going to hurt you.)

And that’s certainly not the extent of the wellness we get from animals. When it comes to the mental benefits, previous research has shown that animals provide companionship particularly for owners over the age of 50, can reduce anxiety in Alzheimer’s patients, reduce stress, and lessen the perception of pain. Pets are also a great way to get kids involved in household chores and learning responsibility. When they see the immediate results of feeding and caring for their pet, they’ll feel happy and plugged into the family dynamic.

Pets Keep Us Moving

If you’ve got a dog of a decent size, you’re well aware of one major fact of life: Dogs need exercise. While activity needs will always vary by breed, a walk in the morning and a walk in the evening is likely a part of your daily routine. That’s great news for your cardiovascular health, blood pressure, and cholesterol, and puts you well on track to meet the recommended 10,000 steps per day.

And while cats certainly don’t need the amount of exercise attention that dogs do, there’s still room for you to get active with them, especially if you’ve got a kitten or a younger cat. Dragging a string from room to room or waving a laser pointer in various places throughout your home is a great way to exercise kitty -- and you. There are some breeds of cat who enjoy games of tag and fetch, so if you prefer a more active pet, you may want to research rescue organizations to find a good fit.

Pets Make Us Social

Sure, dog parks are designed to be havens for dogs to wag tails, sniff rear ends, and chasechasechase. They’re also great destinations for humans to meet, greet, and interact. Adding new friends and faces to your daily routine -- and putting your conversational skills to work -- is a great way to broaden your social circle and keep your mind sharp.

While common thinking suggests that dog owners are extroverts and cat owners are introverts, I disagree. Just because we’re not out at a park with our kitties doesn’t make cat owners less social. I’ve bonded with countless friends (and strangers) about their cats, my cats, and the adorable, weird things they tend to do. Trust me: The people who are friends with Indy on Facebook consider themselves very lucky.

If you’re not a pet owner and you still need a reason to add a pet to your family ... have I mentioned that they’re adorable? I’ll bet if you own a cat or a dog, there’s not a day that passes that you don’t smile or chuckle or talk about something cute or silly your pet did. Endless enjoyment, and oh-so-good for you. What could be better? (A plea: If you’re thinking of bringing a pet into your family, visit your local shelter or rescue group. Adopt! Don’t buy.)



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