How pets can improve your life expectancy and general health
Britain is a nation of pet lovers. According to the most recent data from the PDSA, half of all adults in the UK own a pet. A quarter own a cat, with an estimated 10.9 million pet cats in the UK, while 26% of the adult population have a dog, with an estimated population of almost 10 million pet dogs.
Add rabbits, birds, snakes, hamsters, and countless other pets to the equation, and it’s clear that animals play a huge part in the lives of millions.
Research has consistently found that owning a pet is good for you. From increasing the exercise you get to developing social relationships, here are five ways that a pet can increase your health and your life expectancy.
5 ways a pet can increase your life expectancy
1. More exercise
According to a study published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, people who own dogs may live longer and benefit from improved cardiovascular health.
The research, carried out by professors at Uppsala University, looked at Swedish residents aged 40 to 85 who experienced a heart attack or stroke between 2001 and 2012.
The study found that people who suffered a heart attack and lived alone were 33% less likely to die after being released from hospital if they owned a dog. For stroke victims who owned a dog, the risk of death was 27% lower.
Owning a pet also helps boost your exercise in other ways.
Of course, if you own a dog then a daily 30-minute brisk walk with your dog can help you to reach the government’s recommended exercise target. But it’s not just taking a dog out that can benefit your health.
If you’re a pet owner, you’ll know that there are lots of incidental physical activities associated with pet ownership. Cleaning out your cat’s litter tray, getting up to feed your pet, and looking after your animal’s hutch, bedding or cage all require you to be physically active.
Anything that reduces prolonged periods of sitting and increases your domestic activity can be positive when it comes to your general health.
2. They give you a sense of purpose
At a basic level, owning a pet can provide you with a reason to get up in the morning. Studies have shown this is particularly important for groups at risk of, or who experience, poorer health – such as elderly people and those with chronic diseases.
Pets are reliant on their owners functionally and emotionally, and owners often cite the fact that their pets need them, or would miss them, as reasons for ownership.
3. They improve your mental health
A survey of pet owners by insurer MORE TH>N revealed that three-quarters of pet owners in the UK say their pet has improved their quality of life.
In the survey of 2,000 pet owners, 60% claimed their animals have helped improve their mental health, and 37% said the presence of an animal makes them feel calm.
In addition, four in five pet owners who have been diagnosed with a mental health condition say their animal has helped them tackle their illness.
The survey also found that many pet owners say their animals provide them with more emotional support than their friends and family.
Qualified vet and Director of Pet Claims at MORE TH>N, Andrew Moore said: “Cats and dogs provide comfort and support throughout their lives. Pets can even sometimes be better at responding to human emotions than other humans, and they provide unconditional love and companionship.
"With everything our pets do for us, we should return the favour by keeping them happy and healthy.”
Some pet owners even brought their cats or dogs into their lives specifically to boost their mental health or to combat loneliness. There is evidence petting an animal can reduce your heart rate, and some people report they sleep better with a pet alongside them.
4. They are good for your child’s development
The research from MORE TH>N pet insurance also found that having a pet can benefit younger people.
59% of parents claim that having a pet has had a positive impact on their child’s overall development, almost half agreed that it has helped improve their child’s social skills, and 38% said that owning a pet has helped their child manage their anxiety.
Owning a pet can also foster a child's sense of responsibility as you teach your child how to keep your pet happy and healthy. As a child matures, you can often give them more of the daily responsibilities, boosting their sense of independence.
Pets can also provide invaluable lessons about life, including reproduction, birth, and illnesses. They can also help to prepare children for future bereavement.
And, as we have seen above, owning a pet can help a child to get more exercise. A child's physical development can benefit greatly from taking pets for walks in the fresh air, and you can even improve their fine-motor skills when grooming a pet or preparing food.
5. They increase social relationships
Many studies have found that it is in the area of relationships that pets may have their most powerful role in longevity.
Pets can act as a social catalyst, promoting social connections, conversations, and even leading to the development of networks of practical support.
The connections that pets can generate can even include non-pet owners, as people feel safer in pet-owning neighbourhoods. Pets can enable a sense of communal belonging which has been identified as a factor in living a longer life.
People with long-term mental illness, autism, and the homeless report their pets as providing non-judgmental, simpler relationships than those with humans.
Older people also report that their pets reduce loneliness and social isolation. Pets may also improve vulnerable people’s interaction with others, improving social skills.
Tove Fall, professor at Uppsala University in Sweden, said: "We know that social isolation is a strong risk factor for worse health outcomes and premature death.
"Previous studies have indicated that dog owners experience less social isolation and have more interaction with other people. Furthermore, keeping a dog is a good motivation for physical activity, which is an important factor in rehabilitation and mental health."
Looking after your pets if something happens to you
As we have seen, many studies show that pets are good for your physical and mental health. But, have you thought about what would happen to them if you weren’t around to look after them anymore?
Firstly, it’s important that you make a will. In your will you can specify who would look after your pets if the worst happened to you, and you can make provision for their care.
It may also be sensible to ensure you have some life insurance in place. This will give you the peace of mind that there is a lump sum available on your death, which the person you have entrusted your pets to may use to pay for their food and care. They may also be able to pay for practical assistance, such as a dog walker or kennelling services.
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