Many of us are on the quest for to find the Fountain of Youth, an elusive solution to aging. We work out, we slap on wrinkle cream, we visit the dermatologist, we buy organic cotton t shirts and chemical-free cleaners, we head to yoga in our baggy hoodies.
But there are less common ways to increase lifespan too. And one of these involves getting a little help from our (furry) friends. That’s right: owning a pet can add years to your life (and certainly life to your years). Some of the benefits are indeed physical - nothing gets you up and moving like a dog paw in your face at seven in the morning. But pets influence our emotional well-being as well.
Overall, dogs, cats, and -yes- even things like hamsters positively affect us the following ways:
They need us: Pets need humans, even if dogs (with their unconditional love) seem to need us more than cats (with their unconditional indifference). Yet all pets need humans for food, shelter, safety, and care. People need to be needed and that makes domestic animals a perfect fit.
They stalk us: Following us around the house, whining when we leave, lying on our 80s sweatshirt just to smell our scent, all but throwing a welcome home party when we return from getting the mail - pets stalk us because they love us so much. And there’s something about that that just feels good.
They think we’re awesome: Dogs especially think the sun rises and sets on their humans. They think we’re the brightest, funniest, most beautiful person in the world and, at least part of us, can’t help but think that too. This makes them good for our self-esteem…..and that’s great for overall health.
They make us move: Again, dogs fit the bill here the most, but some people do walk their cats (and, fun fact, you can even buy a leash for your pet rodent). Many of the physical benefits of pet ownership are tied to the increased activity levels. When we’re outside for an hour a day walking our dalmatian or hiking with our golden retriever, we reap all the cardiac benefits. We’re also better able to maintain a healthy weight, which fends off all sorts of disease and illness.
They influence hormones: The animal connection is, to some degree, influenced by our hormones. When pets and people connect, oxytocin (the “feel good” hormone) is released in the bodies of each species. This floods us with happiness and makes us feel safe and secure. Other activities release oxycontin too, like roller coasters and exercise. Thus, go for a jog with your pooch to double your dose. Throw on your Avenger’s sweatshirt and be the superhero they already think you are.
They protect our hearts: The simple act of petting a dog can lower blood pressure by 10%, which benefits us from a cardiac standpoint since hypertension plays an important role in heart disease. The increase in physical activity mentioned above enhances the ol’ ticker as well. But, what’s more, pet owners who have heart attacks recover faster than those who don’t own animals. They face better survival odds and spend less time in the hospital. It’s hypothesized that the latter is a result of being needed at home.
Yep, pets are good for us, so go to your local animal shelter and get one. Or get several and live forever!