Health Benefits of Owning a Pet

Let's paint a familiar scene: You come home from work at the end of a long and tiring day. Your plans fell through and you're ready to chalk up the day as a bust. With nerves shot and thinking only about a quick meal before your head hits the pillow, you open your door to a trundling bundle of fur tripping over itself in its excitement at your return. Despite your day, you can't help but give in to the smile spreading across your face.

The unconditional love of a pet can't help but make you feel good. And as it turns out, science shows that caring for a pet doesn't just feel good, it also has real health benefits.

Pets and Heart Health

When you take your dog for a walk or play together in the park, you also get exercise, which is essential for keeping your heart strong.

The American Heart Association recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week. Dividing it into 10- to 15-minute segments of brisk walking counts, too — so if you walk Fido around the neighborhood twice a day, you can meet your heart-healthy exercise quota without much thought.

Even if you don't walk your pet, taking care of it (cleaning the litter box, getting up to let your dog in or out, carting heavy bags of pet food from the store) can help keep you active.

And the more active you are, the better your cardiovascular system works, according to Harvard Medical School. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains that caring for a pet can help lower the amount of unhealthy fats found in your blood that can lead to heart attack and stroke.

Pets and Emotional Health

A recent study found that pets — specifically dogs, cats, rabbits, and horses — can help reduce stress in children and teens. The study also found owning a pet helps children and teens to be more social and better learners.

Man's best friend helps you make people friends, too. Take your dog for a walk and he's likely to get you talking to those you pass along your way. It's been shown that the more social you are, the happier you are and the longer you're likely to live.

Pets also provide companionship. Other research found older adults who lived alone but who owned dogs lived longer than those who didn't have a pet. Because of the strong attachment between pet owners and their animals, older people who owned pets were less likely to be depressed than non-pet owners.

There are many benefits of being a pet owner. No matter what kind of animal you have or might choose, a pet can help you live a healthier life.