It’s been one of those days. The boss wasn’t happy, traffic was a nightmare and you’ve had a fight with your best friend. But then it happens. You walk through the front door and are greeted by a wagging tail or a quiet purr. That sudden wave of calm that just came over you is not your imagination. Your four-legged friend, or any other pet, is actually good for your mental and physical health.

About two-thirds of U.S. households own at least one pet. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says those pet owners, on average, are in better shape that non-owners. Here are six ways pets improve your physical and mental health.


Several studies have found that pet owners may get more exercise than the rest of us, especially dog owners. The NIH says that that dog owners who regularly exercise their pet are more physically active and less likely to be obese than those who don’t own or walk a dog. Another study found that dog owners walk an average of 300 minutes a week, while people without dogs walk about 168 minutes a week. Dog walkers also tend to walk faster than other people. It looks like a dog is a great motivator to get you moving.


Simply being with a pet can calm you down. Petting your cat or dog is a win-win for both of you. It soothes your pet and can lower your blood pressure by decreasing cortisol, a stress hormone. Pet owners also have milder responses and faster recovery from stressful situations.


Less stress, lower blood pressure, and overall improved fitness add up to a reduced risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association has looked at numerous studies and now says that having a pet, especially a dog, leads to a reduction in cardiovascular disease and increased survival among patients.


Did you have a pet when you were a child? If so, you may be a healthier adult. Studies have found that children exposed to pets before they turn six months old are less likely to develop allergies and respiratory infections as they get older. Researchers believe that children who are exposed to dander and allergens may be less reactive and develop stronger immune systems.


Researchers have also found that people with pets are generally happier, a bit more trusting, and less lonely than people without pets. Pets give us a sense of belonging and meaning. When a pet pays attention to us, it gives us unconditional love and acceptance. That makes a big difference in our mental health.


Finally, our animal friends, especially dogs, help us make more human friends. Studies have shown that walking a dog leads to more conversations. People who use wheelchairs have also reported that people talk with them more often if they are with their dogs. You may not feel comfortable talking to someone on the street, but chances are that you would not hesitate to ask if you can pet their dog. That leads to more social interaction, and people who have more social relationships tend to live longer, healthier lives.


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