When you come in the door after a long, stressful day and are greeted by a wagging tail or welcoming purr, you may feel an immediate sense of calm – a feeling that things are going to be okay. Most pet owners can attest to the fact that animals make people feel good. But, did you know that having a nurturing, affectionate relationship with an animal is good for both your mental and physical health?

If you’ve been thinking of adding a furry friend to your household, here are three healthy reasons to go out and find that perfect pet.

1. Pets are good for your heart.

Spending quality time with your pets may make you less likely to get heart disease. This is a theory that is supported by the American Heart Association (AHA). According to the AHA, lower cholesterol, lower stress, lower blood pressure levels, and increased fitness can add up to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Dog owners have a leg up in all four of these areas – and cat owners in three out of four.

The act of petting your dog or cat lowers your blood pressure, releases oxytocin (a hormone associated with relaxation), and cuts down on levels of cortisol (a stress hormone). While it may seem obvious that stress and blood pressure would be lowered while you’re petting your dog or cat, studies have actually shown that, on average, pet owners have lower blood pressure and lower heart rates in general, whether at rest or undergoing stress tests. Researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo discovered that in those who take medication for hypertension, their blood pressure response to stress was cut in half if they owned a cat or dog. Researchers have also noted lower levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in pet owners – especially men – as compared with those who do not own pets. The final plus for the heart health of dog owners is that they tend to be more physically active than those without dogs. This is in large part because of the walks that our four-legged friends encourage us to take each day.

In addition to preventing heart disease, pets are also beneficial if you already have heart problems. Studies show that heart attack survivors and people with serious abnormal heart rhythms who own dogs live longer than people with the same heart problems who don’t have pets. Overall, pet owners have a lower risk of dying from any cardiac disease, including heart failure.

2. Pets keep you moving.

As noted above, daily dog walks play a major role in maintaining a healthy heart. But beyond the heart, the physical activity involved in taking care of and interacting with a pet can increase your range of movement, enhance your muscle coordination, strengthen your bones, increase circulation of the blood throughout your body, and increase your energy levels. According to a study in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health, dog owners not only walk significantly more than non-owners, they are also 54% more likely to meet the recommended levels of physical activity each day. Those who take their dogs for one 30-minute walk or two 15-minute walks each day will meet the minimum recommendations. Aside from walking, playing fetch in the back yard with your dog will also get your heart rate up.

Cat owners can also benefit from the companionship of a four-legged exercise buddy – and if you exercise together, you’ll both benefit. Try shining a flashlight on the wall or waving a string while you do a step aerobics routine or follow along to an aerobic dance video at home. Your cat will get a great workout chasing the light or string – and you’ll be entertained, which makes workout time fly by. Those who have arthritis know the importance of stretching. Let your cat be your visual reminder of how often you should be stretching each day. Every time you see your cat stretch, take a moment to stretch, too. You may enjoy getting down on the floor or sitting in a chair and going through the same (or similar) motions as your cat.

Many people find that having a fitness partner makes them more likely to stick with their exercise routine. If you know that both you and your pet are benefiting from exercise, you may be more motivated to keep moving together.

3. Pets improve our mental health.

People who have a high quality relationship with a pet are generally happier, more trusting, and less lonely than those who don’t have pets. Therapists have been known to prescribe a pet to help a patient who is dealing with or recovering from depression. Pets who are loved provide unconditional love and acceptance to their owners in return. They are a constant source of companionship and give more meaning to a pet owner’s life, which can make a significant difference in mental health.

Taking care of a pet – feeding, walking, grooming, playing – gives people something to focus on other than their own negative thoughts or discomforts. Studies have even shown that pet owners tend to visit the doctor less often for minor problems. Being responsible for the health and well-being of another living creature gives pet owners another level of meaning in their lives, makes them feel good about how they’re spending their time, and helps them to feel more connected.

This feeling of connection isn’t just between pets and their owners. Staying engaged with others is one of the keys to maintaining a healthy mind, and pets can help their owners to become more connected within their community. Pet owners feel comfortable reaching out and talking to other pet owners. The common bond of furry friends is a natural icebreaker. Dogs, in particular, are social magnets. Dog owners feel free to stop and chat with one another while walking in the neighborhood. Visiting a dog park allows owners to socialize with each other while their dogs roam, romp, and socialize with other dogs. Again, it’s a win-win for pets and their owners.

So if you’ve been considering bringing a dog, cat, or other loving animal into your home, there’s clearly another great reason to do so: for your health! If you already have a furry family member, consider celebrating Pet Appreciation Week with Trilogy! Trilogy communities will be celebrating how pets of all kinds can also live The Good Life with Poochstock events hosted this month. Contact your local Trilogy community to see when and what events they have planned.

Share with us what type of pet you have (or want) and how they have impacted your life.

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