Anyone who has owned a pet knows that coming home after a rough day and sharing quality time can help melt the stress away, but did you know that there are health benefits associated with having a pet? Surprisingly, researchers are only recently learning what many pet parents have known for years: our pets provide emotional support and unconditional love, having done so throughout recorded history. Researchers, though, have only recently begun studying the connection between pet ownership and health. “When you see how long we’ve had pets in our lives, and how important they are to us today, I think it’s amazing that the study of human-animal interactions is still so new,” says Dr. Sandra Barker, director of the Center for Human-Animal Interaction at Virginia Commonwealth University. “Researchers have only recently begun to explore this wonderful relationship and what its health benefits might be.”
The emotional and social benefits of sharing our homes with pets are fairly clear, but how does owning a pet affect our physical health? For dog owners, it comes as no surprise that they specifically are shown to get more exercise on a daily basis than those without a canine companion. This exercise in turn leads to greater cardiovascular health. Daily walks with our four-legged friends also help prevent obesity, and in older adults, can help maintain mobility. Additionally, dog owners have been reported to have lower heart rates and blood pressure, as well as faster stress recovery.
While dog owners outnumber cat owners in the United States, we certainly can’t leave our feline friends out of the health benefit conversation! Cats have some unique qualities that are beneficial to their owners’ health. Although most cats don’t require the same amount of physical activity from their owners as dogs, their purrs have been proven to lower blood pressure and stress. The purring of a contented cat also resonates at a frequency rate between 20 and 140 Hz, a range that is considered medically therapeutic and has been shown to lessen recovery time from muscle injuries and broken bones.
You don’t have to actually own a pet to reap health benefits; therapy animals have become more and more common in settings such as hospitals and senior communities, with patients and staff reporting positive results after interacting with them. At Senior Lifestyle, we’ve seen the connection between pet ownership and health firsthand, and some of our senior communities even have permanent pet residents! These special ambassadors of goodwill welcome visitors to our communities and provide residents and staff with companionship each day. To learn more about any of our pet-friendly senior communities near you, please visit the Senior Lifestyle website.