Metro Weekly

5 Reasons Why Owning a Pet is a Healthy Choice

Pets aren't just great to own, they may also help to improve your overall health

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We all know owning a pet can be a gratifying experience. Sharing our lives and homes with an animal, one we love, feed, care for and take numerous photos of, is something we all should partake in at some point. What’s more, that chocolate lab you love more than some members of your family could be having added benefits beyond just making it easy to pick up guys at the dog park — he may be extending your life, too.

Yes, your cat, dog, reptile, hamster, snake or any other such pet may be impacting your overall health in a positive way. Sure, it can feel slightly undone when they get sick and we stress over their well-being, but there’s an undeniable correlation between owning a pet and being healthier as a result. As such, we’ve got five ways in which owning a pet can improve your quality of life.

1. Move, Fatty

It may seem obvious, but owning a dog is a surefire way to get more exercise into your day. Dogs, particularly larger breeds, require a lot of walks to make sure they get the exercise they need — and the human attached to their lead is going to be attaining their recommended daily exercise goals in the process. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise to reduce chances of heart disease and stroke, with an easy goal set at thirty minutes per day, five times per week. Take your dog for a half hour walk each day — which can be split into fifteen minutes in the morning and fifteen at night — and both you and your pooch will be healthier and happier in the long run.

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2. Heart Strong

Walking a dog isn’t the only way to help your heart. Simply owning a pet has been proven to reduce blood pressure in owners and increase life expectancy in heart attack survivors. The Cardiac Arrhythmia Suppression Trial, which spanned 1,700 patients between 1986 and 1998, found that, of those who had survived a heart attack, dog owners had a one percent chance of dying within a year of their attack, which contrasted with a 7 percent chance for those who didn’t own a dog. Both the CDC and the National Institute of Health have conducted studies into the health benefits of pet ownership, and both found that owners have, on average, lower blood pressures and lower levels of cholesterol and triglycerides.

3. Stressing Me Out

Sure, it’s easy to worry about your pets: what have they eaten, why are they limping, do they seem less excited than usual, why don’t they want attention today, etc. Still, as a whole, pets are more likely to reduce stress than cause it. In 1999, a University of Buffalo study concluded that pets were a better way to reduce high blood pressure — a common side effect of stress — better than ACE inhibitors alone. Karen Allen, Ph.D., assessed 48 stockbrokers in New York City, all on lisinopril, an ACE inhibitor used to treat hypertension. Half of the participants were told to adopt a dog or cat, with Allen monitoring stress levels and blood pressure in both groups. “This study shows that if you have high blood pressure, a pet is very good for you when you’re under stress,” Allen said. Of the 24 pet-owning stockbrokers, all showed better cardiovascular control during stressful situations than non-pet owning participants. If you lead a stressful life and want an easy way to help manage it, get yourself a pet.

4. Feline Fine

Counter-intuitive as it may seem, owning a pet can help reduce a variety of ailments, including allergies, eczema and asthma. University of Wisconsin-Madison pediatrician James E. Gern concluded that having a pet in the house can reduce a child’s chances of developing related allergies by up to one-third, and that children exposed to animals at an early age have stronger immune systems overall. It won’t be of particular use to current sufferers, so don’t rush out and grab a cat if you are allergic to them, but it’s something to consider if you’re bringing a child into your home. As well as making great companions for children, your dog or cat could be setting them up for a healthier adult life as well.

5. Man’s Best Friend

If you’re socially awkward or lack confidence, it can be difficult getting out and meeting new people. Humans are social creatures, and interacting with others makes us feel better and improves our overall mood. Harvard Women’s Health Watch concluded that “social connections help relieve harmful levels of stress, which can harm the heart’s arteries, gut function, insulin regulation, and the immune system.” If you struggle with breaking the ice or making new friends, a pet is a great way to do so. Take your pet to training classes and mingle with other new owners, or go for a walk in one of the city’s many dog parks and let your pup introduce himself to other dogs — and, subsequently, help you introduce yourself to their owners. If personal interaction isn’t your thing, join one of the pet-specific social networking sites such as Dogster or Petpop and set up playdates, make friends and more.

There are numerous ways in which pets can impact your overall lives, but above all, they’re simply a joy to own. From the tail-wagging greeting of a dog when you come home after a long day, or the welcome warmth of a cat stretched across your lap on a cold evening, pets are an incredible part of the human experience. That they can also help us stay on this earth that little bit longer is merely an added bonus to an already amazing relationship.

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Rhuaridh Marr is Metro Weekly's managing editor. He can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.