We love our pets. 67% of American households have one, and in 2019 we spent over $75 billion on our animal friends. We’re spending a lot to keep these non-human family members in our homes, but are they doing anything for us? From helping to lower stress to fighting allergies, it turns out owning a pet is actually a healthy move.
Why Owning a Pet Is Healthy
It wasn’t that long ago that we thought pets were bad for allergies, and that anyone suffering from them should avoid bringing a pet into the house. Parents were told to avoid keeping pets lest their kids develop allergies. It turns out that was all backward. Instead, kids who grow up with animals tend to have fewer allergies and less risk of asthma than those in animal-less environments. That’s precisely because our pets are not clean.
To understand this, think about what you’re doing when you go to the gym. You lift weights until your muscles are exhausted. In fact, you’ve actually made micro-tears in the muscles with all that exertion–but that’s a good thing. The body builds the muscle back stronger than before. Low-level stress of certain kinds helps the body become stronger, and this applies to the immune system, as well. Because our pets are constantly exposing us to small levels of dirt and allergens, our immune systems learn how to fight back more effectively and efficiently.
This is the big one, especially for those who are aging. It turns out that people with pets are far less likely to suffer from depression, and the more attached you are to your pet, the more profound this response is going to be. One study even found that stockbrokers who adopted pets saw their blood pressure drop significantly compared to their pet-less counterparts.
When we’re stressed, our bodies emit chemicals like norepinephrine and cortisol, which are damaging to the immune system, drive up blood pressure, and can contribute to a buildup of plaque in the arteries. One way to counteract this is by raising levels of other chemicals, like dopamine and serotonin. Some people do this through cocaine or alcohol, but a much healthier way to get more of these feel-good chemicals is by interacting with our pets.
Not every pet helps us get more exercise, but dogs are especially good at it. A dog is like having a treadmill you can’t ignore! Even if you have just a small dog with a minimum of exercise needs, you still have to take him outside at least twice a day for a quick stroll. And studies show that people walking animals tend to walk almost 30% faster.
This effect is so profound that people who own dogs are more likely to reach their physical fitness goals than those without. They’re also 34% more likely to get in that recommended 150 minutes of walking per week. Even insurance companies know this: Midland Life Insurance in Ohio, for example, is open about the fact they are more likely to give applicants over 75 a policy if they own a pet.
Humans have had pets since time out of mind. They are our companions, they bring us joy, they motivate us to exercise: they even lower stress! Now might be a good time to consider a pet of your own, and for more tips on healthy living over time, keep up with Aging Healthy Today!