If you have a pet you'll know how much joy they bring - but did you know that spending time with an animal can also benefit your health? From lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels to combating stress, here are five surprising health benefits of owning a pet.
See also: Seven ways to make your cat happy
See also: Five ways your dog shows you love
1. Reduces high blood pressure
If you have high blood pressure, your GP will have discussed the importance of making lifestyle changes - like eating healthily and getting more exercise - but have they mentioned getting a pet? A study from the State University of New York found that stockbrokers taking medication for hypertension had lower blood pressure in stressful situations if they had a cat or dog at home.
2. Reduces cholesterol levels
Cholesterol on the high side? You might want to get a dog before you reach for the statins. Pet owners have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels than non-pet owners, according to researchers from the Baker Medical Research Institute in Australia. A study of 5,741 people found pet owners were significantly healthier, even taking into account other factors, such as smoking, diet and weight. While dog and cat owners were found to be healthier than average, dog owners had the lowest cholesterol levels - suggesting those walkies are good for you, as well as your pet.
3. Combats stress and depression
If you're feeling stressed, try spending more time with your pet. Stroking a cat or dog releases the bonding hormone oxytocin, which helps to helping to reduce anxiety and stress. Research shows that exercising in the morning helps lowers cortisol, a stress hormone which is at its highest level early in the day, while those who exercise regularly are 3.7 times less likely to develop depression and anxiety – another good reason to take Fido for walkies!
Horses can help too. Researchers from the Washington State University found that levels of the stress hormone coristol were significantly lower in people that spent time with horses than a control group.
4. Increases work happiness
Research suggests that people who take their dog to work are less stressed – while the presence of a dog can make the job more satisfying for other employees. A study from the US found that access to dogs boosted workers' morale and reduced stress levels, whether people had access to their own pets or other people's. The study published in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management, concluded that dogs can make a positive difference in the workplace, while the dogs themselves were happier as they are not being left at home for long periods of time.
5. Helps you recover from a heart attack
Having a cat at home can reduce your risk of having a heart attack by nearly one third, according to a study from the University of Minnesota. Another study found that dog owners who suffer a heart attack live longer than people with the same heart problems who don't have pets, while people who use pet therapy while recovering from surgery require significantly less pain medication.