Whether it’s a playful dog, purring cat or carrot-nibbling rabbit, there’s no doubt that pets provide their owners with a lot of comfort and affection. What’s more, a number of recent studies support the theory that animals help us to unwind and forget our troubles and could help reduce stress levels.
From stroking dogs to riding horses, interacting with pets is increasingly being credited with reducing stress levels and helping people to cope more effectively with their problems. So, perhaps it’s time for those of us without a pet to consider investing in an animal of our own?
Stroking Therapy To Reduce Stress
Most are familiar with the feeling of getting home and finding it hard to relax; sometimes it’s difficult to forget the list of things you’ve got to do, even though none of it can be addressed until tomorrow. But unwinding at the end of a tough day might be a lot easier if you have a pet. Studies have shown that the simple action of stroking an animal helps you to switch off from stressful situations and emotional problems.
A number of studies have found that stroking a pet causes your heart rate to slow down and shuts down the body’s natural chemicals, including cortisol and adrenaline. However, the University of Warwick’s Dr June McNicholas points out that stroking a pet will only work for people who enjoy the company of animals. She said: “Presenting a dog or cat to someone with raised blood pressure who doesn’t like animals can make them far more anxious than before.”
Horses: Ride Your Troubles Away
New research suggests that being around horses can reduce teenagers’ stress levels. Researchers studied 130 teens who spent 90 minutes every week learning how to ride and care for horses. Each teenager gave six samples of saliva over a two-day period before and after the 12-week course.
The results, published in the American Psychological Association’s Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin, revealed that teenagers who spent time with horses had significantly lower levels of stress hormones than a control group. Obviously, the same has not been tested in adults, but it’s an interesting indication of the effect an animal can have on stress levels, and if you’re feeling anxious or under pressure, some horse riding lessons may be an excellent solution!
Reduce Stress as a Nation of Animal Lovers
We have always been a nation of animal lovers and the number of homes in the UK where animals are kept has increased by 15 per cent since 2010. This is often due to the fact that people love the companionship that a pet can offer, but perhaps also because more people are coming around to the idea that pets help promote calmness, reduce stress and alleviate anxiety.
A recent survey found that 98 per cent of pet owners believe their pet helps to stop them from getting too stressed out. The survey, which was carried out by Birmingham’s National Pet Show, found that 96 per cent of animal owners believed that children led a happier and healthier life when they had a pet.
Noel Fitzpatrick, star of the TV show Supervet, said the result was not a shock. He said: “I firmly believe that the essence of unconditional love shared between a pet and their guardian represents the very best of the human condition, so the results of this research do not surprise me.”
In further studies, researchers from Oxford University have, in fact, showed pet ownership has positive psychological effects on mental and physical health. Such effects include the ability to reduce stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, increase physical activity and learning, as well as improving memory.
Having a pet also provides an owner with a kind of social network, if you will, because it decreases social isolation and can help with shyness. Pets have also been suggested to provide people with a link to mindfulness and the present moment because, unlike most individuals, they do not worry about tomorrow, but instead live in the present.
Lessen Loneliness with Pets
The most obvious positive effect of pet ownership is probably that pets can lessen those feelings of loneliness. Loneliness in later life is itself a big public concern. AgeUK estimates that one million older adults can go for a month without speaking a word to someone else. Keeping a pet can change that considerably.
For the over 50s particularly, it is the social interaction which is the benefit here. Taking the dog for a short walk, for instance, is not only a social activity, but it also increases the chances of the owner meeting someone who will engage in a bit conversation with them. A passer-by could comment on how cute the dog is, or ask to stroke it, for example.
Owning such an adorable dachshund or Yorkshire Terrier can even give one a sense of importance and belonging, as well as a greater interest in their surroundings. As novelist William S. Burroughs once said, “My relationships with my cats have saved me from a deadly, pervasive ignorance.”
Dogs are known as man’s best friend. But it seems they, and other common pets, are more important to over 50s health and well-being than we thought.
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