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Why having a pet is good for your health

From lowering your blood pressure to helping you make friends, a pet can be a huge health boost.
Affectionate puppy licking their owner

Loyal, friendly and always happy to see us, pets can make for a faultless friend. But did you know they can make us physically, mentally and emotionally healthier? Just having the company of a pet makes us more active and less stressed.

The delight a pet can bring isn’t something new; in Australia we have an incredibly high level of pet ownership. Research shows almost two-thirds of Australian households have a pet today, and 90% of us have had a pet at some time.

Pets are also seen to promote optimism, with the same study revealing many people who believe that caring for another living being brought a sense of purpose to their lives and that their pets have a direct positive impact on their experiences of depression and anxiety.

Liam Beecroft, Health Coach for Remedy Healthcare, says owning a pet can be extremely beneficial for a number of health-related reasons.

“Owning a pet such as a dog can help to increase our own levels of physical activity,” Liam says. “For example; the tasks of feeding, grooming and taking your pet outside and playing with them helps to keep us active.

“But most importantly, the look of pure joy and excitement your dog gives you when it thinks it’s going for a walk is too difficult to resist! So they help keep us accountable for exercise –rain, hail or shine they want to go for a walk.”

Discover some benefits that pet ownership can have on your health and wellbeing.

 

Keeping fit and active

Research has showed that people who walked a dog five days a week lost an average of 6.5kg in a year.

It also helps older adults; those in their 70s and 80s who regularly walked dogs experienced lower body mass, and fewer limitations in what they could achieve at home, shows a separate study.

Dog owners are twice as likely to maintain their mobility as they get older and also more likely to walk faster than those without a dog.

People with a dog also have more varied hobbies – pet-free people watch an average of 14 hours more television a month than those with pooches; while dog-owners spend that time on outdoors activities such as cycling, going for walks, and gardening.

 

Reducing cardiovascular disease

Having a dog or a cat means you’re less likely to develop cardiovascular disease, such as stroke, heart attacks or high blood pressure, according to research.

Pet owners also have lower cholesterol and improved one-year survival rates after serious heart attacks.

Because these statistics relate to cats as well as dogs, it shows it’s not just the exercise that’s associated with walking a dog that helps boost your health, but that companionship and stress relief is important too.

 

Reducing doctor’s visits

A study has revealed that pet owners over the age of 65 visit the doctor 30 per cent less than people without pets

Respondents who owned pets reported fewer doctor visits over the course of a year than people who did not own pets.

The study also showed that pets appeared to help their owners in times of stress. The accumulation of stressful life events was associated with increased doctor contacts during the study year for respondents without pets. This relationship did not emerge for pet owners.

"Owning a pet such as a dog can help to increase our own levels of physical activity. For example; the tasks of feeding, grooming and taking your pet outside and playing with them helps to keep us active." - Liam Beecroft, Health Coach for Remedy Healthcare.

Pets are purrfect for mental health!

Pets are also great for helping people manage long-term mental health issues, bringing support and companionship when needed.

Carla Spyropoulos, MindStep® Coach for Remedy Healthcare, says pets give us unconditional love and are great company on the days that you may not feel up to spending time with people.

“Pets can encourage us to have a better routine,” Carla says. “They like to be fed, play, exercise and sleep at the same time each day; this can give us a real sense of purpose as well as remind us to do the same things.”

Even just looking at your pet increases the amount of ‘happy hormone’ oxytocin in your brain. As well as making you feel happy, oxytocin also helps decrease anxiety and slows the heart rate.

People have less of a physical reaction to stress and recover from stressful situations much more quickly when their pets are present, according to studies.

 

Pets make you more sociable

Pets are highly popular for social, relaxation and educational purposes.

Pet owners are 60 per cent more likely than non-pet owners to get to know their neighbours, shows research by Harvard Medical School.

Carla says pets can encourage us to be more active and spend time outdoors.

“Taking a dog out for a walk can be a good way to socialise and meet people, particularly if you go to the dog park,” she says.

“This allows people to build friendships and good social support networks.”

 

Information provided in this article is not medical advice and you should consult with your healthcare practitioner. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest.

An Australian Unity health partner, Remedy Healthcare provides targeted, solution-oriented healthcare that is based on clinically proven techniques. In the past ten years, they have worked with more than 75,000 Australians – helping them to manage their health through caring, coaching, empowerment and support.

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