If you’re constantly sweating, trying to wear out your rambunctious Lab puppy, you may feel like you’re getting into the best shape of your life. While owning pets, especially dogs, provides several potential health benefits, that doesn’t necessarily mean pet owners are automatically healthier than others.
In this article, we’ll talk a little bit about what factors contribute to making people healthier. Then, we’ll show how owning pets can help improve some of those variables, possibly leading to a healthier, longer life.
What Makes Some People Healthier Than Others?
According to the CDC, a person’s health is influenced by many factors, which generally fall into five categories. Those categories are:
As you can see, an individual’s health depends on more than whether or not they are a pet owner. Let’s take a look at what the research shows about the health benefits of pet ownership.
Health Benefits of Pet Ownership
Here are a few research-backed health benefits of owning a pet.
Decreased Stress, Anxiety, and Loneliness
Mental health plays a vital role in physical health; dogs are known to help improve humans’ emotional states. Petting dogs releases serotonin and lowers stress cortisol levels, for example.
Several studies have determined that interacting with a dog in a stressful scenario can decrease physical signs of anxiety, such as cortisol levels and heart rate. Study participants became less stressed when interacting with an unfamiliar dog than with a known friend.
Pets also serve as a source of emotional support, helping isolated humans feel less lonely. The impact of pets on loneliness is often studied in the elderly, but Covid lockdowns left many of us feeling unusually alone. Perhaps it’s not surprising that many chose to foster and adopt new “pandemic pets.”
Even when people are free to socialize, another study found that pet owners were more likely to get to know their neighbors and form social support groups than non-pet owners.
Improved Heart Health
An extensive research project concluded that pet owners showed an overall lower average heart rate and blood pressure than non-pet owners. Cat owners, in particular, showed a lower death rate from heart problems. The review’s authors went so far as to recommend pet ownership to improve outcomes for patients with heart conditions.
Some of that improved heart data could be explained by the fact that pet owners (especially dog owners) tend to exercise more. A study discovered that dog owners go for more walks than non-pet owners. Dog owners are also more likely to fit walking into their daily schedule as well as participate in other physical activities. Remember, behavior is one of the five factors influencing overall health, including increased exercise.
Longer Life Span
According to a 2007 study, pet owners make 15% fewer doctor visits per year than non-pet owners, even accounting for other factors like income, age, gender, etc. Overall, pet owners studied appear to live longer than non-pet owners.
Taken together, you can see that owning pets can help improve several factors influencing a person’s health.
While we can’t tell you that adopting a puppy will instantly bring you good fortune and fine health, as you can see, owning a pet has some science-backed benefits that can improve your health. However, it’s also true that many other factors play a role in whether or not some people are healthier than others. Part of the CDC’s goal in naming these categories, especially the social determinants one, is to see where the country has unequal access to health services. Often, the ability to own and care for a pet is partly determined by one’s income, so even the proven method of health improvement is more accessible to some than others.
Featured Image Credit: Zarubina Viktoriia, Shutterstock