Why Pets Are So Good For You

7 Ways pets benefit your health

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The evidence continues to mount: owning a pet is one of the easiest, most rewarding ways to live a healthier life.

Woman exercising with dog

No wonder we love our pets so much! Jjust take a look at some of the impressive health benefits that go along with pet ownership.

1 Reduce stress hormones

Stress can do terrible things to your physical well-being. "When your stress level is high, your body produces excess cortisol, the stress hormone," explains Dr Babette Gladstein, a veterinarian licensed in five states. Too much cortisol can make you more prone to diseases such as diabetes, stroke and heart disease.

"Basically, pets promote our well-being by keeping our stress level down and cutting cortisol levels in the body," continues Gladstein. In fact, research shows that male pet owners have less sign of heart disease, specifically lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels – than non-pet owners.

What stress does to your body >>

2 Raise feel-good hormones

Stroking and petting your pet creates an uptick in serotonin for both you and your pet," says Gladstein. "The higher your serotonin level, the less you feel pain and depression." People often take prescription drugs to raise serotonin and other helpful hormone levels. A pet may be a healthier and more natural solution. "Serotonin is the hero," says Gladstein, "but your pet is the delivery system!"

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3 Help illness recovery

Scientific evidence has shown that people show greater signs of recovery after illness when they own pets. "Therapy dogs have been engaged in hospital work for years, helping people heal faster and be in less pain," says Gladstein. "Pet owners with AIDS suffer less from depression than those without pets."

Improve your ability to recover from illness >>

4 Boost immune system

The National Institute of Health found that individuals with pets make fewer doctor visits, especially for non-serious medical conditions. Children who grow up with pets in the home are less likely to develop future allergies and asthma. And studies have indicated that pets can actually boost the overall immune system.  

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5 Encourage exercise

Romping outdoors with a pet interrupts the isolating effects of screen time with video games, computers and TV, says Barbara J King, biological anthropologist and author of Being with Animals: Why We are Obsessed with the Furry, Scaly, Feathered Creatures Who Populate Our World. "Pets bring family members the benefits of exercise and fresh air."

CeliaSue Hecht struggles with chronic pain, fibromyalgia and arthritis and credits her dog Cici for helping her stay active. "Cici gets me laughing and moving," says Hecht. "I need to exercise and have to walk her every day. If not for her, I would not get the exercise I need."

Exercise with your pet >>

6 Sniff out diseases

Did you know that dogs are now being trained to recognize both cancer and diabetes, enabling the animals to serve as an early warning detection system? "This is new and not completely conclusive," says Gladstein, "but the percent of accuracy may be as high as 60 to 70 percent which, for a non-invasive test, is not a bad place to start."

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7 Offer unconditional love

Psychologist Gail Melson once wrote, "Children feel a sense of unconditional love from their pets. Dialogues with pets offer a time-out from the anxieties of human interchange."

Chris Hamer, author of Parenting with Pets, the Magic of Raising Children with Animals, explains how one study found that a few minutes of cuddling a pet provided more comfort than talking with a parent or a friend. In fact, writes Hamer, nearly 70 percent of children confide in their pets because they knew their best friend would not betray them or their secrets.  "Children gave animals high scores for listening, reassurance, appreciation and companionship. Pets don't discriminate and they don't judge."

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Mary Fetzer
Mary Fetzer is a freelance writer and marketing consultant with a marketing degree from Penn State University and 15 years of international business experience. Mary specializes in writing about parenting, children, pregnancy, college, health, entertainment and fashion. Mary's marketing expertise includes competitor analysis, including extensive experience in corporate "spying." Mary and her husband, Murray, reside in Central Pennsylvania and have two daughters, Susan and Isabelle.

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