Time to grab the toys and treats….May is National Pet Month! According to its founders, this month-long celebration is intended to acknowledge the positive impact that pets have on our lives. The affection we receive from our furry pals does more than put a smile on our faces—it also benefits us physically and psychologically. Here are just a few of the many ways pets have a positive impact on our health:
1. They dampen depression and boost mood. Pets offer up great way to beat the blues. Not only do they offer unconditional love, but they also give their owners a sense of purpose, which can be crucial when you’re feeling down in the dumps. Pets also combat feelings of loneliness by providing companionship, which can boost your overall mood and elicit feelings of happiness. Research indicates that that animal-assisted therapy is potent in deterring depression and other mood disorders.
2. Pets dial down stress. When stress comes your way, your body goes into fight-or-flight mode, releasing hormones like cortisol to crank out more energy-boosting blood sugar and epinephrine to get your heart and blood pumping. But when we live in a constant state of fight-or-flight from ongoing stress, these physical changes take their toll on our bodies, including raising the risk of heart disease and other dangerous conditions. Contact with pets counteracts this stress response by lowering stress hormones and heart rate. Pets also lower our anxiety levels and elevate feelings of calmness.
3. They boost heart health. Pets shower us with love so it’s not surprising they have a big impact on the heart. Time spent with a cherished critter is linked to better cardiovascular health, possibly due to the stress-busting effect mentioned above. Studies show that dog owners have a lower risk of heart disease, including lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Dogs also benefit patients who already have cardiovascular disease: they’re four time more likely to be alive after a year if they own a dog and more likely to survive a heart attack. But don’t worry, cat owners—feline affection has been shown to create a similar beneficial effect.
4. Pets boost our socialization. One of the fringe benefits of taking on the responsibility of pet ownership is that animals can be an instant icebreaker. People sometimes have a hard time getting to know each other, but pets can be the common denominator that helps them connect.
5. They get us moving. Need some motivation in the exercise department? Dogs can be great personal trainers simply because they need to be walked several times per day. Not only do dog walkers get more exercise, they also get better quality exercise than people who simply walk or run on their own. Dog walkers are also more likely to stick to their fitness plans than those who walk alone.
At TBITC, we know how important pets are when it comes to treatment. So, our Partial Hospitalization Program includes pet therapy on Fridays to help our clients transition successfully into the weekend with the help of our canine co-therapists.
The benefits of having a pet extend well beyond companionship, and sometimes our furry friends don’t receive the credit that’s due. Why not give Fido an extra bone for being such a great dose of natural medicine for your mind and body?
By Andrew Walen, LCSW-C, LICSW, CEDS, Founder, Executive Director at The Body Image Therapy Center. For help call 877-674-2843 or email email@example.com.