You probably didn’t have your blood pressure or your jean size in mind when you adopted Snickers from the animal shelter, but it turns out your furry companion can do more than make your annual holiday greeting card a little cuter. While a new cat may not cure your medical conditions, researchers have found a few notable health perks for people with pets.
1. Pets may boost your daily step count.
Many dogs require daily walks, so it’s no surprise that people with dogs are more likely to reach the recommended amount of daily exercise than people without dogs. Adults over the age of 50 with a dog achieved the recommended 150 minutes of physical activity a week more often than those without dogs, research found. And other data indicates that this perk may extend across age levels. A 2013 study from Australia found that children with a dog were 49 percent more likely to get the recommended 420 minutes of physical activity than those without a four-legged family member. Walking a dog might not seem like a big deal, but walking has more health benefits than you might expect.
2. Pets may improve your mobility and muscle strength.
Walking your dog or playing with your cat does more than engage your FitBit: It may help you stay stronger and more agile. Anyone who’s had to reign in a leash while being dragged behind an energetic Siberian husky can attest to this. Scooping up your pet for a cuddle, hauling around bags of kitty litter or dog food, or restraining your pooch when he spots a squirrel in the distance are all everyday body-strengthening activities.
3. Pets may be emotionally healing.
Long-term care centers regularly use animal-assisted therapy to reduce loneliness or depressive symptoms for their residents, and therapy dogs are becoming more common in schools to reduce anxiety or stress. People with companion animals are also more likely to meet and form friendships with other folks in their community, which can also boost mental health. And this isn’t just limited to living with dogs and cats: A 2006 study of nursing home residents found that those who were given a canary reported reduced depression and improved quality of life compared to those who were given a plant or nothing.
4. Pets may lower your blood pressure and heart rate.
The combo of increased physical activity and reduced stress has great effects for the heart. Caring for a pet, especially a dog, may lower your risk of heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.