Animals play an important role in many people’s lives and are often valued companions. Having a pet can certainly positively affect the quality of our lives, but is their companionship beneficial to our health?

A pet can bring a family together. This may not be seen as a health benefit by some, but a happy social family can have a massive positive contribution to each and every family member’s mental health. When owning a pet, your daily routine suddenly undergoes a radical change, training and playing with your pet together gives that extra quality time otherwise spent in front of the TV or in your bedroom.

You suddenly leave a much fitter lifestyle, particularly if your dog is an energetic one who loves to explore parks. A brisk walk or even playing outside for a couple of hours every day has a profound effect in lowering heart-related diseases. If you don’t have a pet yourself and want to hang out with an animal to boost wellbeing sign up to a service like Pawshake where you can become a pet sitter for the week, day, or just for a few hours.

Companion animals also improve heart health by lowering blood pressure and regulating the heart rate during stressful situations. In a 2002 study, researchers measured changes in heart rate and blood pressure among people who had a dog or cat, compared to those who did not, when participants were under stress (performing a timed math task). Petting and stroking pets were also big indicators as when people spent time petting animals their stress levels subsided.

When a child has no brothers or sisters, research shows that pets help children develop greater empathy, higher self-esteem, and increased participation in social and physical activities by building social relations with their pet as if they were their own sibling.

People see pets as non-judgemental and can confide in them. Pets often provide companionship to elderly people who may not have the energy or resources for a live-in pet. In universities and nursing home settings, interaction with visiting dogs has led to more social behaviours, less anxiety and feelings of loneliness.

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