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Animals and healing: The benefits are worth barking about

Animals and healing: The benefits are worth barking about

Ever felt like your pet helped you get over the common cold or the flu? There might be something to that! There is a connection between animals and healing that goes beyond fuzzy snuggles.

In fact, research has shown a link between spending time with animals and positive effects on health. In honor of National Puppy Day this month, our LCMC Health team is sniffing out the healing power of animals.

How Fideaux (or Mr. Whiskers) boosts your health

When you visit your primary care provider, you probably expect to be given advice about ways to improve your health, such as exercising more often, eating a healthy diet or quitting smoking. Ever had a doctor suggest you adopt a pet? There are valid reasons why that might be good advice.

If you’re skeptical as to whether a furry friend can boost your health, that’s understandable. If you have a pet, think about how you feel when you get home after a long day at work. When your pet runs to the door to greet you, you likely experience a surge in positive endorphins.

Those endorphins are what make you smile, and they also boost your overall mood and help stabilize your mental health.

Research has shown that, in some cases, loneliness and social isolation can be as dangerous to health as smoking. Having a pet can make you less likely to experience loneliness and the health hazards that accompany isolation, such as an increased risk of mental health conditions.

Another reason to welcome a new pet into your home: Spending time with animals can lower stress levels.

That benefit is part of the reason why you may see a therapy dog in the halls when visiting a hospital. Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is frequently used in both children’s hospitals and general hospitals to help patients cope with the effects of their medical conditions and the side effects of treatment, including time spent in the hospital.

Love your heart by loving your pet

While the health benefits of spending time with animals are numerous, pets are especially good for your heart health. Nearly half of all Americans have at least one risk factor for heart disease, which is the leading cause of death among both men and women in the U.S.

Having a pet or regularly spending time with animals in another setting may help lower those risk factors. Those who spend time with animals can experience decreased blood pressure, lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and a decreased risk of diabetes.

This is particularly true for those who have dogs. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), dog parents are more likely to get the recommended amount of physical activity each week. Specifically, dog owners are 34% more likely to get at least 150 minutes of walking each week than those who don’t own dogs.

Those literal steps are steps toward better heart health! The AHA reports that, as a result, dog owners are 31% less likely to die from a heart attack or stroke than those who don’t own dogs.

You don’t even have to be out walking the dog to benefit from pet ownership, either. Even the act of simply petting your dog benefits the heart by lowering blood pressure and helping you better manage stress.

The next time you’re looking for a way to reduce stress and live your best life, you might want to consider spending more time with your furry friends or, if you don’t already have a pet, adopting one. Your health will thank you.

Looking for other ways to protect your heart? Request an appointment with an LCMC Health heart and vascular specialist near you.