If you’ve been itching to get a cuddly little dog and your partner isn’t exactly on board, here’s a tactic you can try. Just tell them: It’s for our health!
Really, though: there are scientific reasons that owning a pet may help you live your most Nutritious Life. And the research is advancing more and more, with studies looking at how pets might address all kinds of health issues, like helping children with autism and ADHD, for example.
One of the most renowned functional medicine doctors around, Frank Lipman, MD, even talks about the benefits of pet ownership in his most recent book on living well.
Here’s why a furry friend is about more than just gushing over cuteness.
Pets Reduce Stress and Boost Mood
If you’ve ever come home to a dog so excited to see you he can barely contain himself, this won’t come as a surprise. Pets provide companionship, ward off feelings of loneliness, and just make you feel good overall.
And while they can also drive you crazy by peeing on your bed and chewing your favorite shoes, research shows that in general, they’re associated with lower stress levels.
Not only do studies show pet owners tend to have lower blood pressure and heart rates, research also suggests the presence of a pet can make a stressful situation easier. In one study, pet owners completed the same stressful tasks in the presence of loved ones and pets. When a spouse or friend was in the room, their heart rates and blood pressure went up more than if they were alone; with a pet, those same measures went down significantly.
Markers like blood pressure, of course, are associated with chronic disease. Which brings us to…
Could Having a Pet Prevent Disease?
Several studies have shown that pet owners have lower blood pressure than non-pet owners. One study also found that pet owners had lower plasma triglyceride and cholesterol levels compared to those who didn’t have pets.
Since all of these measures are risk factors for cardiovascular disease, it follows that having a pet may be protective. In fact, the American Heart Association issued a statement in 2013 that associated pet ownership with reduced risk factors for heart disease and even increased longevity (AKA a longer life!).
Of course, some scientists say it’s important to consider the direction of the relationship. “It may be simply that healthier people are the ones that have pets, not that having a pet actually leads to or causes reduction in cardiovascular risk,” one Harvard professor said.
Still, it’s a pretty intriguing promise. And there’s one more way having a pet (well, in this case, specifically a dog) can affect your health: exercise.
Dog ownership naturally encourages movement, especially among older adults, since pooches need to be walked. One study found that adults over 65 who owned dogs spent 22 extra minutes per day walking compared to their peers who didn’t. (That’s huge!)
Depending on the dog, you may even end up on a run—or build some muscle in your ball-throwing arm pretty quickly.