An oldie but a goodie: this post was originally published on 3/23/17
Do you love spending time with your furry friends? The Health Sciences Library is full of animal lovers – collectively the library staff owns more than 20 animals! If you
are obsessed with love animals like I do, you already know that spending time with them can improve your mood and make you feel cozy inside. However, did you know that there are actually a myriad of health benefits to owning a pet? And for those of you who aren’t pet owners – many of these benefits also take effect if you just spend quality time with an animal, so you can still reap the benefits through playing with another person’s animal for a bit!
Increased physical activity
It’s no secret that owning a pet increases your likelihood to engage in physical activity – after all, most animals need to be walked and/or played with multiple times a day. This increase in physical activity is very healthy, and can even help you lose excess weight. A study conducted by the National Institutes of Health of more than 2,000 adults found that dog owners responsible for walking their pups are less likely to be obese than dog owners who pass the duty off to someone else or those who don’t own dogs at all.
Improved heart health
Spending time with an animal on a regular basis can also improve your heart health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have both conducted heart-related studies on people who have pets. The findings show that pet owners exhibit decreased blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels – all of which can ultimately minimize their risk for having a heart attack. For those who have already experienced a heart attack, research also indicates that heart attack patients who owned pets lived longer than those who didn’t.
Not only do pets offer unconditional love, but they may also give their owners a sense of purpose, which can be crucial for those feeling down in the dumps. Pets also combat feelings of loneliness by providing companionship, which can boost your overall mood and even bring you feelings of joy and happiness.
In an ongoing study, a University of Missouri-Columbia researchers have found that interacting and petting animals creates a hormonal response in humans that can help fight depression. Rebecca Johnson, one of the researchers on the team, discusses the findings: “our preliminary results indicate that levels of serotonin, a hormone in humans that helps fight depression, rise dramatically after interaction with live animals, specifically dogs.” The research also suggests that interacting with animals can increase the levels of prolactin and oxytocin in a person’s system, helping regulate their mood.
Johnson also says that interacting with animals can give you more than a short-term mood boost, it may also have longer-term human health benefits. “Oxytocin has some powerful effects for us in the body’s ability to be in a state of readiness to heal, and also to grow new cells, so it predisposes us to an environment in our own bodies where we can be healthier.”
As you can see, interacting with animals is a fun and enjoyable way to take care of both your mental and physical health. Why don’t you celebrate National Puppy Day with on of the dogs (or cats) in your life?