The internet is full of stories of dogs and cats who saved their people: the cat that curled up in a box next to an abandoned baby and kept warm, the pound puppy who alerted its sleeping owners to a gas leak, the lab mix who defended his human from a bear attack.
But the truth is, even if your dog or cat never achieves hero status, having a pet can save your life in other ways. The nonprofit Human Animal Bond Research Initiative estimates pets will help save $ 11.7 billion in healthcare costs. The biggest savings come from visits to the doctor – pet owners see their documents 0.6 times less than non-pet owners.
Here are just some healthy perks that you can get from your dog or cat that may make you want to give them an extra treat tonight:
1. They are good for your heart.
So significant are the heart health benefits of a pet that the American Heart Association issued a scientific statement in 2013. Studies have shown that pet owners have dramatically lower blood pressure than people who don't have an animal in their life. One small study found that people who agreed to adopt a pet for the purposes of a blood pressure study also saw decreases in their blood pressure readings. But that's not all. For some reason, pets can also help people lower levels of bad cholesterol and another dangerous blood fat, triglycerides.
2. You protect your emotional health.
Pet owners are not only less depressed and less stressed. New research has found that animals are a source of unconditional love and comfort that can help alleviate the pain of those who are depressed or those like war veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. One reason: Studies have shown that attachment to a pet increases levels of a hormone called oxytocin, which lowers levels of depression and anxiety and can help lower heart rate, a physical manifestation of stress.
3. They help you lose weight.
Research has looked at obesity rates among pet owners and found that owning a dog – and walking with it – is associated with a reduced risk of obesity.
4. They motivate you to keep fit.
People who regularly walk their dogs are about two and a half times more likely than non-dog owners to get the recommended amount of exercise per week (150 minutes). In one study, researchers at Northwestern University gave obese participants with obese dogs advice on diet and physical activity and put their dogs on a low-calorie diet. They also recruited some overweight non-dog owners for the study. A year later, the two human groups had lost roughly the same amount of weight, but the pet group reported that they loved exercising with their dogs, so they did it more often.
5. They can protect you from cancer.
Exposure to some farm animals has been linked to certain cancers, particularly non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system, possibly as a result of exposure to pesticides or environmental viruses. But having a pet seems protective. Researchers from three California institutions who investigated the link speculate that owning pets could help boost the immune system.
6. They can keep you alive after a heart attack.
A study funded by the National Institutes of Health found that pet owners who had a heart attack were more likely to be alive a year after the event than those who did not have pets, regardless of the severity of the heart attack.
7. They help relieve pain.
People with fibromyalgia, a condition characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain, who spent time with a therapy dog in their doctor's waiting room, experienced less pain, fatigue, and emotional stress than people who weren't exposed to the dog's magazine, Pain Medicine . Oxytocin can also work here: Studies have shown that visits from therapy dogs can increase the oxytocin level, which can, among other things, reduce pain.
8. You will feel less lonely.
Loneliness kills. Studies have shown that people who feel lonely are at higher risk of premature death than people who do not feel lonely. Of course, one way pets can help alleviate loneliness is by just being there and offering comfort and affection. But pets, especially dogs, can also provide some fat for social interactions. A dog is a great conversation starter.