How pets keep us healthy and happy

Check out these eight science-backed ways pets boost the bliss in our lives. You’ll feel so appreciative you’ll never lose your cool over a spilled water dish again!

Pets are parts of more than 60 percent of households in the world. Those creatures contribute to the happiness and well-being of families even when they chew our shoes, shred the furniture, or kick impossible-to-vacuum cage bedding all over the floor.

Read on to learn the surprising ways your pet can boost your life:

They help us develop empathy: Some research suggests that kids who have pets become more nurturing, giving adults — perhaps because they learn from a young age that all living creatures need comfort and feel pain. But even people who bring home their first pet as an adult tend to develop a stronger sense of empathy, thanks to their furry or feathered buddy. Taking care of an animal reminds you that all humans and animals have needs that may eclipse your own, and you’re able to see things from others’ point of view. That helps you become more caring and compassionate.

Pets help relieve stress: Simply being in the same room as your pet can have a calming effect. A powerful neurochemical, oxytocin, is released when we look at our companion animal, which brings feelings of joy. It's also accompanied by a decrease in cortisol, a stress hormone.

Pets may reduce your blood pressure: It's a win-win: petting your pooch or kitty brings down blood pressure while pleasing your pet. Researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo discovered that in people already taking medication for hypertension, their blood pressure response to stress was cut by half if they owned a cat or dog.

They unite families: In many households, pets can help to smooth things over between warring spouses or squabbling siblings. Even when family members are barely speaking, they at least share delight in watching the guinea pig in its cage.

Pets boost your fitness: A dog is the best companion for a stroll, even better than a friend. A study of the University of Missouri found that dog walkers improved their fitness more than people who walked with other people. A separate study found that dog owners walked 300 minutes a week on average, while people who didn't own dogs walked just 168 minutes a week. And a study in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health found that not only did dog owners walk more than non-owners, they were also 54% more likely to meet the recommended levels of physical activity.

They increase our social connections: Ever notice that when you’re out with your pet, strangers are more apt to smile, say hello, even strike up a conversation? And when you share a goofy video clip or retell a funny story about Fluffy or Fido, people immediately chime in and share their own pet’s similarly silly antics. Those brief exchanges seem meaningless, but they actually leave us feeling less isolated and more in sync with our community. And that makes us happier because people are hard-wired to feel good when they feel connected to others.

They’re like fuzzy bundles of happiness: A trio of studies published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, revealed that pets provide bundles of emotional benefits to the humans who love them. Lead researcher Allen R. McConnell, Ph.D., of Miami University in Ohio, summed up the findings: “Specifically, owners had greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, tended to be less lonely, were more conscientious, and were more extroverted, tended to be less fearful and tended to be less preoccupied than non-owners.”. It helps new moms bond with their infants, relieves pain, lowers blood pressure, and decreases levels of cortisol (a stress hormone). It’s also been found to help people feel more at ease in social settings and more trusting.

They bring order to our lives: Going for daily walks, establishing playtime and eating routines and making regular vet appointments — yeah, it can all start to feel like drudge work after a while. But there’s an upside to responsible pet parent behavior: It helps bring routine and discipline to our day, and that benefits us as much as it does them, asserts Niven. “These mundane tasks become habits to bring structure to the day, and when we feel like there is order and purpose to our lives, we tend to feel happier and be more productive.”

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