Healthspan November 13, 2017

Why adopting a furry, scaly or even shell-topped friend into the family isn’t just good news for your pet…

According to recent statistics, 44 per cent of the UK population have been swayed by puppy-dog eyes and now share their home with at least one pet. And it’s not surprising, in a world where Doug the Pug and Grumpy Cat rule the internet, that this figure has increased 10 per cent in the last year alone.

But if you think you’re doing your furry (scaly, feathered or erm, shell-topped) friend a favour by letting them share your bed, eat your leftovers and take you for a walk, think again. 85 per cent of pet owners believe that owning one improves their life, and recent studies have only gone to cement what animal lovers have always known: pets = life

Here’s our top five reasons why owning one is arguably the best decision you’ll ever make:

1. They put you ‘out there’

According to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, pet owners exhibit stronger self-esteem than non-pet-owners. In fact, of those who took part in the study, pet owners were more likely to be extroverts, reported feeling less fearful and were more socially outgoing than their pet-less counterparts.

And, contrary to the ‘crazy cat lady’ myth, such studies are not inclusive to the more obviously social pets such as dogs, which *literally* put you outside (hear: walkies!). The reason? Pets are natural conversation starters, so even if you don’t take your cat or bunny rabbit for a walk at the local park, simple things like keeping a photo of them on your desk at work, or waiting for an appointment at the vets will automatically draw other pet lovers to you.

2. … and lower your stress levels

Experts are in agreement that simply stroking your dog or cat can help reduce stress levels. In fact, some studies suggest that pets are even better at comforting us than our friends and family. The reason? “Their unconditional love and the fact that they don’t judge us make pets the best support system during stressful times”, observes animal expert Arden Moore.

In addition, not only does your stroking your pet feel good for the animal, it promotes the release of the feel-good endorphin serotonin and reduces blood levels of cortisol, which can help reduce your heart rate.

3. …which is great for your heart health

"Pet ownership - particularly dog ownership - is associated with a decreased risk of heart disease”, says professor Glenn N. Levine of Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas.

Not only have several studies shown that heart attack patients who own pets survive longer than those without, but pet owners are also thought to have a lower risk of heart disease thanks to their likelihood of having lower cholesterol. The connection? More exercise = lower risk of obesity, a major factor in CVD development.

4. They literally get you out there

Pets are great motivator when it comes to exercise, though admittedly some more so than others. In a study involving more than 5,000 adults, dog owners were found to engage in more regularly in physical activity than non-dog owners, making them 54 percent more likely to fulfil government recommended levels of physical activity per day.

But regardless of whether you’re dragging a toy around the house for your cat to chase or taking your dog for his daily walk, exercise is exercise. And all steps count.

5. But most importantly, they make you happy

There’s nothing better than a good snuggle session with your pet, but did you know that just thinking about them can make you happier?

In an experiment published in the same Journal of Personality and Social Psychology study, participants were divided into three groups to test social rejection. Each group was asked either to write about their best friends, their pets, or to draw a map. Those who were asked to write about their dogs and best friends experienced an equal boost in happiness, while those who drew maps reported feeling worse.

But remember: owning a pet – regardless of how small – is a huge responsibility. There are, however, plenty of ways you can still benefit from their benefits (and adorable faces), such as asking to spend time with a friend’s pet or volunteering at your local rescue centre.

If that’s not feasible, recent studies have shown that even watching cat videos can help boost your health. And with more than two million to choose from on YouTube, you’re guaranteed to reap the benefits!

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