10 Ways Pets Make You Healthy

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Of course you can’t resist your golden retriever’s puppy-dog eyes or your tabby’s silly antics, but you’re getting much more from your pet than unconditional love and great pics for your Facebook wall. Pets make you healthy!

Nearly two-thirds of American households include a pet.  These companions are proving themselves to be more valuable to our health than ever. From calming patients before medical procedures to motivating owners to exercise, pets may be the best medicine we don’t even realize we’re taking.

Here are the notable ways your animal companions can improve your health.

Dogs get you to sweat-Your pooch may be the best fitness trainer around. Dog owners are 41 percent more likely to meet government recommendations for moderate exercise through walking. Strolling with a dog tends to perk up your normal pace.

Pets calm your blood pressure –  Simply being around your pet can help keep your blood pressure in check. In one study, pet owners  experienced less of a blood pressure spike when they performed a stressful arithmetic task when their pet was in the room — even though they didn’t touch or interact with them.

Dogs and cats relieve anxiety – Does petting your pooch or stroking your cat after a long day soothe your frazzled nerves? Research shows that their impact is even more powerful than you realize. Scientists found that spending 15 minutes with a dog before undergoing an MRI scan lowered patients’ anxiety. Hanging out with a dog also decreased anxiety among kids who were nervous before seeing the dentist.

Pets limit loneliness – Nine out of ten pet owners consider their animals to be members of the family. Research also found that more than half of owners report talking to them. Most of these owners believe their pet responds through body language, facial expression, or sound. No wonder having an animal around has been found to make people feel more connected.

Animals melt away stress – Forget the bath salts and scented candles. A snuggle with a pet has been associated with lower stress levels.

Pets reduce allergy risk – Conventional wisdom has it that  animals and allergies don’t mix. And while it’s true that the 15 to 30 percent of Americans with allergies to cats or dogs should avoid them, exposure to animals early in life may actually protect children against allergies later.

Dogs can detect cancer –Afraid of needles? Prostate cancer screening starts with a blood test of PSA, a protein made by the prostate gland (high levels indicate cancer). But thanks to dogs’ well-honed sniffing abilities, a urine test could eventually be developed to check PSA levels. French scientists recently found that a specially trained Belgian Malinois shepherd (a breed prized for its explosive- and drug-detecting skills) could detect compounds associated with cancer in men’s urine 91 percent of the time. Cancer cells produce these chemicals when they die, and they are odorless to humans but detectable by dogs.

Pets make chronic illness manageable -Pet owners tend to believe that their pet enhances their health and quality of life. This can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, especially in the face of long-term health conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome. Pets provide distraction from personal worries over health and also tend to enforce a routine that helps their owners get up in the morning and keeps them moving through the day.

Animals help keep you slim –Maybe it’s because they keep you active or because you sneak half of your meal to them under the table — but whatever the reason, pet owners tend to have less of a problem with being overweight than people who do not have pets.

Pets keep the doctor away –You can do more than just eat an apple a day. Several studies have shown that pet owners have less need to visit the doctor. They are more likely to report being in good health and less likely to schedule appointments for sleep problems, heart concerns, and depression.

With so many great health reasons to spend time with pets, we should make sure not to rush through our days without stopping to spend time with them. We should make sure to give ourselves and our pets the gift of time together. And if you don’t have a pet, perhaps you might consider how adopting one could give you a fuller and healthier life.