We’ve all heard that pets are man’s best friend, but did you know that they can also provide health benefits beyond just being your side kick?
The Benefits of Companionship
Pet ownership can be both emotionally and physically rewarding. Emotionally, pets can provide a constant source of unwavering love and nonjudgmental companionship. This devotion has been proven to provide physical benefits to human health. A recent study published in Circulation, an American Heart Association journal, outlined the bevy of health benefits related to owning a pet.
Pet ownership has been shown to help with systemic hypertension. An Australian study noted that pet owners had significantly lower systolic blood pressure and body mass index (BMI) than non-pet owners. A similar study from 2012 showed that married couples with pets had lower diastolic and systolic blood pressure than those without a furry friend in their lives.*
Being a pet parent can also help to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. It’s been proven that men who own pets are more likely to have lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels than non-pet owners in the same age group. On the other hand, a second study showed that those without dogs were more likely to have elevated serum cholesterol levels and diabetes mellitus than dog owners who regularly participated in physical activity with their pets.
Owning a dog has been shown to increase physical activity levels in owners as well. An Australian study showed that dog owners were 57% more likely to meet the recommended level of physical activity compared to nonowners. A Canadian study showed that dog owners walked an average of 300 minutes per week, as opposed to the 168 minutes walked by nonowners. No significant association of increased physical activity was noted with cat ownership, which isn’t particularly surprising.
Weight Loss and a Healthy Heart
Your faithful companion can also help with weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight. Pet owners who walk their dogs had a lower BMI when compared with dog owners who didn’t walk their pet and non-pet owners. Young children had a lower risk of being overweight or obese if their family had a dog.
People with pets had significantly lower baseline heart rate and blood pressure with small increases associated with stress compared to non-pet owners. Similar cardiovascular reactivity was seen with dog, cat, goat, fish, chimpanzee, and snake ownership.
In the Cardiac Arrhythmia Suppression Trial (CAST), dog ownership was associated with lower mortality in patients with cardiovascular disease when compared with non-owners. Cat ownership did not show a deceased mortality. Also, the potential for one-year survival post myocardial infarction (heart attack) was higher in pet owners than non-pet owners.
While a pet should never be adopted purely for the health benefits they may provide, these benefits can be seen as an added bonus to being a pet parent.