Our relationships with our pets confer many surprising benefits
Posted January 19, 2011
Many senior citizens and baby boomers will agree that “happiness is pets!” There’s a good reason why: aging pet owners experience physical and emotional health benefits from having a pet that they may not even be aware they are experiencing.
Here are just a few of the health benefits of having a pet:
Reduced stress and anxiety
Pet owners will tell you how great they feel when they are greeted and spend time with their loving pet. Pets show unconditional love. Our pets are there for us when we need them, even when others in our life can’t be there for us. We can talk to our pets, share our innermost thoughts and feelings, and not worry about rejection. The mere act of petting releases naturally occurring chemicals into our bodies that calm and soothe our nerves.
Lowered blood pressure
The same chemicals that are released when we pet our faithful companions are also the ones responsible for helping lower your blood pressure. In fact, one study found that pet owners on medication for high blood pressure, were less likely to experience spikes in the blood pressure and heart rate, than those that did not have a pet at home. Maintaining a steady and healthy blood pressure and pulse decreases your risk for a heart attack or stroke. Research has also shown that those individuals that experienced a heart attack had a longer survival rate if they had a faithful and loving pet they had bonded with when they returned home.
Pets become part of the family. They provide companionship and help to alleviate loneliness and depression. It is hard to be in a bad mood when you have a pet. Every time you enter your home, or even a room, your companion will greet you, even if it is just to look up and acknowledge you are there. They keep you company and keep you active. Having a pet means taking care of your friend. That may mean anything from walking, feeding, or even just cleaning out the litter box. Whatever the activity, the animals in your life make you take an interest in living.
Better heart health
Having pets decreases stress, anxiety and depression. A pet in your life also promotes physical activity and emotional well-being. The companionship of a pet promotes emotional and psychological stability. There is a link between the chemicals released when enjoying your pet and the lowering of cholesterol and triglycerides. Studies show there is a link between pet owners and a decrease in heart disease versus non-pet owners.
Enhanced immune system
Pet owners experience decreased stress and improved mood and emotional well-being. This causes an increase in your ability to fight off or prevent illness. Research studies show that pet owners are less likely to visit physicians for trivial illnesses. (The study did not address the question of whether pet-owning seniors were sick less often, or just did not see a need to seek medical attention for their minor illnesses.) There are insurance companies that now ask applicants over 75 years old if they have a pet, as part of their pre-screening process. Surprisingly, if the answer is “yes,” the insurance company looks more favorably on the applicant.
Better balance in life
Pets offer intangible benefits to our lives. They offer social interaction, even if it is just between the aging senior and the pet. If a senior is walking a pet, it is not unusual for someone to interact with the aging senior to ask about their furry companion. Pets offer relief from loneliness and promote physical activity as well as mental stimulation.
There may be skeptics out there who believe pets don’t make you feel better—but science now confirms that having a pet enhances the physical and emotional well-being of the owners.
Diane Carbo, RN has over 35 years’ experience in a variety of nursing settings, including orthopedics/rehabilitation nursing, home care, discharge planning, case management, oncology, hospice, senior behavior health, assisted living, and long term care. Her passion is to help people plan for long-term care needs, and to that end started AgingHomeHealthCare.com. Her goal is to assist aging seniors and their families to develop plans that allow individuals to remain home, safely and comfortably, in the least restrictive environment, regardless of age, income or ability level.