If you have any pets, you get it: Pets are our family members. While they can certainly bring us plenty of joy (the silly way your pup howls or your kitty batting around a toy always makes you smile), there are also many scientifically proven health benefits to owning a pet. In fact, a pet might even be able to help you get better sleep.
“The connection between owning pets and well-being has garnered significant attention from researchers over the past few decades,” says Amber Ingersoll, medical director and associate veterinarian at Mountain View Veterinary Hospital in Sheridan, Wyo. “Numerous studies have highlighted the profound impact of animal companionship on both physical and mental health.”
To discover the benefits of pets for human health, read on.
Sleep and health benefits of pets
Strengthen heart health
Many researchers have delved into the effects interacting with pets has on how the body responds to stress, Ingersoll notes. In fact, a growing body of evidence suggests having pets can lead to reduced blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and heart rate, she points out.
One study even revealed that pet owners had a higher likelihood of surviving one year after a heart attack compared to those without pets, possibly due to the social support animals provide.
Decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety
For instance, one study found that women with pets experienced lower levels of depression while men with pets had higher levels, says Ingersoll.
“However, numerous other studies have provided evidence that pet ownership reduces the risk of depression or anxiety and fosters positive lifestyle behaviors, especially in children,” she adds.
Encourage active lifestyle
Ingersoll shares a study showing that pet ownership has been associated with a more physically active lifestyle. “The responsibility of caring for a pet often includes daily walks and playtime, encouraging owners to lead more active lifestyles,” she says. Regular physical activity can help lead to better overall health and well-being.
Boost brain health
According to Ingersoll, a study by the University of Alabama found that pet ownership is associated with better cognitive and brain health, especially for dog owners.
Did you know owning a dog can even decrease your risk of long-term mortality? This is something that’s been researched too. Owning a dog can potentially contribute to a reduction in cardiovascular-related deaths, notes Ingersoll.
Improve sleep quality
“The presence of a pet can offer comfort and a sense of security, making it easier for some people to fall asleep and feel safe during the night,” Ingersoll observes. “Also, pets often have routines, such as waking up at specific times for food or walks. These routines can help owners establish a more consistent sleep schedule, which can improve sleep quality over time.”
But she cautions that sleeping with pets carries both benefits and risks.
“For many people, having a pet in the bed can create a soothing atmosphere, which may help some individuals fall asleep faster and feel more at ease during the night,” she says. “Some pets, such as cats and small dogs, can provide physical warmth when sleeping in close proximity to their owners. However, if the pet is restless, makes noise, or wants attention, it can cause disturbed sleep.”
“The presence of a pet can offer comfort and a sense of security, making it easier for some people to fall asleep and feel safe during the night.”
Amber Ingersoll, medical director and associate veterinarian at Mountain View Veterinary Hospital
In order to maximize the benefits of having a pet without sacrificing sleep quality, Ingersoll recommends creating a designated sleep area for your pet, such as a
in your bedroom or an adjacent room.
“Make sure your pet gets enough physical and mental stimulation during the day, so they are more likely to rest during the night and avoid letting your pet sleep in your bed if their presence regularly disturbs your sleep,” she advises.
What are the top benefits of owning a pet?
As Ingersoll explains—and as studies have shown—owning a pet can lead to improved cardiovascular health, boosted brain health, and even better sleep.
What are some ways that pets can contribute to our physical health?
“Research consistently demonstrates that pet ownership positively impacts physical health in various ways,” says Ingersoll. “Pet owners tend to be more physically active compared to non-owners, engaging in regular activities like walking and spending time outdoors. This increased activity not only benefits their physical well-being but also fosters social connections, contributing to improved mental health.”
Additionally, studies have shown that pet owners often have healthier blood pressure and cholesterol levels and better stress responses compared to those who don’t own pets.
How can pets help reduce stress levels and improve mental health?
According to research, pet ownership can reduce anxiety and depression, and it may promote greater life satisfaction and happiness in the owners.
“Older individuals who live alone can especially benefit from the companionship, emotional support, and improved social engagement,” says Ingersoll. “Caring for another living creature can also create a sense of purpose and attenuate loneliness.” She adds that this type of data showing the mental health benefits of pets is supported by pet owner polls.
“According to a survey by the American Psychiatric Association, a strong majority of the pet-owning population believes that pets have a positive impact on their emotional well-being,” says Ingersoll. Among the key benefits, respondents listed reduced stress and anxiety, unconditional love, support and friendship, and a calming presence.
This article originally appeared on Saatva and was syndicated by MediaFeed.
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