Man and Husky dog walk in the park. He keeps the dog on the leash.

A majority of American households consist of at least one pet. And, now it looks like the reasons for having a pet reach far beyond companionship. Research, especially over the last decade, has shown that the presence of animals in a person’s life can have significant health benefits.  But just how do pets aid your health? Keep reading to find out how having a pet can actually make you healthier.

Having a furry friend (or non-furry in some cases) can actually be an asset to your health for a number of reasons:

Having pets, particularly dogs, has been shown to result in people exercising more.  Dog owners are more likely to get outside and take a walk, and usually more than once a day.  In fact, a recent study showed that urban dog owners logged, on average, almost twice as much time walking as their non-pet-owning counterparts.  In fact, adding a dog to the family is often what gets people off the couch and in their walking shoes in the first place.

Though many doctors still advise against it, recent research has shown that children who are raised with indoor animals are less likely to develop allergies.  While it bucks conventional wisdom, the data shows that children who live with pets don’t have as many allergies as those who reside in homes without animals.

Stress and Mental Health
It has been shown that the act of walking with a pet reduces stress and helps people to relax.  A survey taken a few years ago reported that 65 percent of pet owners say their animals help their mental health, and a whopping 76 percent said their pets helped to reduce their level of stress.  This data supports another survey taken a few years prior.  Additionally, pets can help alleviate feelings of loneliness as well as fight depression by giving pet owners more interest in life.

Blood Pressure
For years, studies have shown that patients with hypertension display a distinct drop in their blood pressure simply by stroking an animal.  Another study was done that went even further with this notion.  Rather than simply measuring blood pressure in regard to animal contact, in this study, patients who were being medicated for hypertension were split into two groups.  One group received only their medication, the other received medication and a pet.  Those who had been given pets showed a much greater decrease in their blood pressure than those without pets.  It was the first study to measure pet ownership as opposed to simply animal contact.

Heart Disease
In addition to their profound effects on blood pressure, pets also seem to increase the likelihood of survival after cardiac arrest.  Some studies have shown that pet owners are actually five times more likely to recover from a heart attack than people who don’t own pets.  The animals’ effectiveness at reducing stress could be part of the reason for these rates.

So, knowing all this, should you run out and buy a pet?  Not necessarily.  Pets take a lot of work and can be quite costly. Given that, adopting a pet needs to be carefully considered.  However, knowing that they can bring health benefits, as well as love, into your home may make your decision easier.

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