Johns Hopkins Health Alert
The Many Benefits of Pets
Pets really do improve our mental (and physical) health. Here’s why.
Pets are more than just furry friends and loyal companions. Yes, pets tug at our heartstrings, but they also improve our health, both mental and physical, helping us to live longer and happier lives. Studies over the past 25 years have shown that stroking a dog or cat can lower blood pressure and heart rate and boost levels of the mood-related brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine. Heart attack sufferers recover more quickly and survive longer when they have a pet at home, and children who are exposed to pets early in life may have a reduced risk of allergies and asthma.
For people with disabilities, pets can offer a lifeline to a more normal existence: guiding the blind, hearing for the deaf, and performing tasks for those who can’t do for themselves. Dogs and cats, even a tankful of fish, calm frazzled nerves and ease anxiety and depression, according to research. In one study, pets seemed to temper some of the psychological stress of being a caregiver to someone who is ill or suffering from dementia.
Dogs also act as conversation starters among strangers, a common interest, and a shared purpose. By getting their owners out of the house, dogs can also be a great stimulus for exercise and a tool for weight loss. In a recent study, researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia found that people who walked a dog for 10 minutes three times a week, eventually working up to 20 minutes five times a week over the course of a year, lost an average of 14 lbs, without changing their diets.
Why do pets make us feel better? One reason is that pets alter our behavior. When they are near, we tend to calm down and speak more slowly and softly. All types of pets offer distractions from the worries of the day, because we naturally shift our attention to them when they are around. Pets also provide an opportunity to touch and stroke another living thing, which has been shown to be of value to our mental and physical health.
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Posted in Depression and Anxiety on July 25, 2007
Reviewed September 2011
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