An apple a day might keep the doctor away, but what about a daily cuddle from your pet?  It’s easy to see why there are almost as many pets in Australia as there are humans: they give us unconditional love, make wonderful playmates, cuddle buddies and ensure more active lifestyle for families. But studies show that the mental and physical benefits of owning a pet could be much more powerful than you think – in fact, researchers have found that people who have pets live healthier and more fulfilling lives than those who do not.

Here are just some of the extensive health benefits that come with pet ownership:

They help us maintain an active lifestyle

A Western Australian study found that seventy per cent of dog owners did at least two and a half hours of exercise per week, compared to just forty per cent of non dog-owners. Pets really do make the best exercise buddies. When we don’t walk them, it’s not just us that we’re hurting by not exercising, but our beloved pet too, which could be why the results are so powerful. See 5 benefits of walking your dog every day.

They make us happy

Pets make great companions, creating a sense of purpose when people are feeling down. Playing, cuddling or caring for a pet can create a reaction in the brain that releases the stress reducing hormone, cortisol and at the same time increases levels of serotonin, the hormone that makes you feel happy.

They create communities

People who own pets have something big in common, and are likely to bond over their connection. There are multiple communities that help pet owners meet and connect, including training classes, dog parks, outdoor cafes and now, even online. Owing a pet helps people feel part of something.

They’re good for the heart

While our pets have a special place in our hearts, they’re actually reported to help keep the physical organ healthy. Scientific studies show that pet owners have lower levels of cholesterol, triglyceride and lower blood pressure, which make them less likely to have a heart attack.

The responsibility and enjoyment of owning a pet can be even more influential on health in vulnerable stages of life, such as childhood and old age, according to scientists.

Pets and children

Aside from being a fun playmate around the house, owning a pet can be a wonderful aid to childhood development, boosting a child’s social skills and health in a way that can be carried on into adulthood.

According to the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on the Human-Pet Relationships, children with pets have the following psychological benefits:

  • They are more sociable, friendly and popular among their peers.
  • They have higher levels of empathy, compassion and social reasoning.

Owning a pet throughout childhood has also been linked to the following physical health benefits in children:

  • A better functioning immune system
  • A decreased risk of allergies and asthma by up to 33%
  • A more developed sense of personal responsibility

Pets and the elderly

According to a 2003 study in therapeutic recreation, for elderly people either living alone or in a care facility, owning a pet or having them around regularly lead to emotional benefits, such as:

  • Increased social interaction
  • Reduced likelihood of loneliness or depression when alone
  • Increased brain function from having the responsibility of caring for another being
  • A feeling of purpose and being needed.

The study also found the following physical benefits specific to elderly people with pets:

  • More active lifestyles, in terms of getting out of the house more and physical exercise
  • Lower rates of heart disease, and a higher chance of surviving a coronary event, compared to a non pet-owner.

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