Like most people, you take steps to take care of your health. You visit your doctor regularly, take your prescribed medications, eat a balanced diet, and try to get enough sleep. But you might be surprised to learn that there are other, less conventional ways to promote physical and mental health.
One of those methods is simply owning a pet. The latest National Poll on Healthy Aging, sponsored by the AARP and Michigan Medicine, uncovers some surprising health benefits for older adults who own pets:
- 9 in 10 pet owners say that their pet helps them enjoy life and feel loved
- 8 in 10 say that their pet helps to reduce stress levels
- Two-thirds say that their pet helps them to stay physically active and stick to a routine
- 65 percent report that their pet helps them connect with other people (preventing loneliness)
When the survey respondents suffer health problems, the benefits of pet ownership are even greater:
- 72 percent say their pet helps them cope with physical or emotional symptoms
- 46 percent report that their pet helps to take their mind off of pain
Perhaps it is the feeling of unconditional love that pets offer, or simply having to focus on taking care of someone who depends on us… Either way, pet ownership clearly confers benefits to both physical and emotional health.
But what if you can’t have a pet, due to restrictions from your living environment, or an uncertainty that you would be able to care for one full-time? There are other ways to enjoy the benefits of contact with domesticated animals, such as:
- Visiting your local animal shelter (the pets there will appreciate the attention)
- Pet sitting for friends or family
- Visits with a therapist who utilizes “pet therapy” (some service dogs are trained to visit at hospitals and nursing homes)
Give it a try! You will find that cats, dogs, and other animals have a lot to offer, and require very little from you in return. And at the same time, you might find that your human relationships improve as well.