Pet Ownership and Our Health
Ask any health practitioner to label lifestyle traits that lead to improved health and following answers will likely be included: exercise, positive interactions, and having an optimistic perspective. All three of these traits are strongly related to numerous (if not most) mental and physical health outcomes, while the lack of each of these in one’s life relates to poor health outcomes and a shorter lifespan. So how can you increase your exercise, engage in more positive interactions each day, and develop a more optimistic life perspective? Your most efficient way to improve these three lifestyle traits is by owning a pet. That’s right, owning a pet.
Researchers and pet owners have long known that owning pets equates to improved mental and physical health. Pet owners are less depressed, have higher life satisfaction, exercise more frequently and with greater intensity, and they engage more frequently in positive interactions with others. A recent New York Times article “Forget the treadmill. Get a dog” (March 14, 2011) highlights the effects that owning a dog has on exercise habits, while my own research (conducted with an Iowa State University Veterinarian) found, consistent with other research, that owning a pet led to increased health behaviors, less depression, and less anxiety. We also found that as people’s attachment to their pets increased, their depression/anxiety lessened even more and their health behaviors increased beyond those with low attachment to their pets. Therefore, your health seems to improve merely through owning a pet, while becoming more attached to your pet makes you even healthier!
So how exactly does owning a pet and being attached to your pet make you healthier? The key seems to be in the relationship with you and your pet and the inherent interactions that constantly occur. Through these interactions people are able to be more active, think positive thoughts, and be more aware of the inherent value of life. Also, the more pet attachment increases, the more your activity, positive thinking, and awareness of the value of life increases.
The bottom line: When you are seeking to improve your health or maintain your current positive health status, research consistently points to the positive benefits of owning a pet and becoming attached to your pet. From this relationship, many of your key health outcomes will improve and I’d be willing to wager that you’d make a furry friend happy as well!
Aaron C. Quinn, Ph.D.