An apple a day may or may not actually keep the doctor away, but what about an animal a day? Now, that's a different story. In fact, when it comes to pet ownership, there are a number of proven health benefits for people, including physical, mental and emotional improvements, from enhancing social skills to decreasing a person's risk of heart attack. Keep reading to find out five reasons to open your home to a furry friend, and why doing so might be just what the doctor ordered.
No. 5: Breathe Easier
If the idea of cuddling with a pet to help ward off allergies seems a little backwards to you, the following may come as a surprise: University of Wisconsin-Madison pediatrician James E. Gern has conducted a number of studies that demonstrate having a pet in the home can actually lower a child's likelihood of developing related allergies by as much as 33 percent. In fact, his research -- as published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology -- shows that children exposed early on to animals tend to develop stronger immune systems overall. While this might not mean much for adults who are already struggling with longstanding allergies, it is good news for families in which this isn't already an established issue, but rather just a concern about what could happen down the road.
No. 4: Meet and Greet
One of the fringe benefits of taking on the responsibility of pet ownership is that animals can be an instant icebreaker, whether they're with you or you're just using them as a topic of conversation. Of course, few people would suggest getting a pet solely for this purpose, but it's hard to overlook the fact that pets provide a great means for improving your socialization skills across the board, especially in terms of meeting and interacting with other pet owners. Though people sometimes may have a hard time getting to know each other, pets can be the common denominator that helps them connect -- even among people who don't seem to be very much alike.
Places to Mix and Mingle with your Pet
Training classes: Many instructors offer group classes such as puppy kindergarten, where you'll find others trying to master the same pet parenting skills.
Dog parks: A great opportunity for both you and your dog to play and interact with other dogs and owners alike. Just be sure your dog is properly socialized and up to date on all shots before introducing it into the mix.
Outdoor cafes: Many restaurants with outdoor seating options are also pet-friendly, and some even offer dog-specific items on the menu as well.
Online: Dogster.com, Catster.com and Petpop.com are just a few examples of popular pet-focused social networking sites that provide an instant, fun way to trade tips, trends and more.
No. 3: Stay Heart Healthy
Many pet owners would agree that a pet can fill your heart with love. So maybe it's only fitting that the presence of a pet can help improve the overall health of that organ, too. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) have both conducted heart-related studies on people who have pets. The findings showed that pet owners exhibit decreased blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels -- all of which can ultimately minimize their risk for having a heart attack down the road. For those who have already experienced a heart attack, research also indicates that patients with a dog or a cat tend to have better recovery rates. These benefits are thought to be connected with pets' tendency to help reduce or at least control their owners' overall stress levels.
Fun Ways to Stay Fit with Fido:
If you're a dog owner who needs more of a workout than walking can provide, here are a few ideas:
- Jogging or running
- Doga (i.e. Yoga for Dogs)
- Agility Training (Obstacle course-based dog sport)
No. 2: Get a Move On
Need a little motivation in the exercise department? Dogs can act as the perfect personal trainer, if only because most of them need to be walked several times a day. According to studies like those conducted by the Wellness Institute at Northwest Memorial Hospital, as long as you're the one holding the leash, you'll reap the rewards, which can include losing -- or at least maintaining -- weight. Research conducted by the National Institute of Health also supports this claim -- including one study of more than 2,000 adults, which found that dog owners responsible for walking their pups are less likely to be obese than dog owners who pass the duty off to someone else or those who don't own dogs at all.
No. 1: Keep Your Chin Up
Pets are a great way to beat the blues. Not only are they known to they offer unconditional love, but they may also give their owners a sense of purpose, which can be crucial for those feeling down in the dumps. Pets also combat feelings of loneliness by providing companionship, which can boost your overall mood and even bring you feelings of joy and happiness. This is particularly apparent among groups -- including the sick and elderly -- who may be on the receiving end of Animal-assisted Therapy (AAT) or Pet-facilitated Therapy (PFT). Many hospitals and nursing homes use these types of programs on a regular basis.
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