3 Scientifically Backed Reasons Why Women Need Pets
Want to relieve stress, get more active, reduce your risk of heart disease, and enjoy a longer, healthier life?
All you have to do is get a pet, according to scientists. They can provide all these health benefits and more.
Most women don’t need convincing. According to a FemiNation poll by Lifetime Networks, 30 percent of women said their pet is the best listener they have in their lives, and 59 percent said they would be willing to risk their lives to save their pets’ lives. The poll also showed that about seven out of ten women between the ages of 18 and 49 own a pet.
A later survey of 901 pet owners by BizRate Research for Shopzilla found that more than half of women felt that their pets were more affectionate than their partners, and 45 percent felt their pets were cuter than their partners!
Indeed, pets fill an important need for companionship for women. Nearly all women in the survey said they frequently talked to their pets, and most also felt their pets communicated back. Women were also more likely than men to feel like their pets made them happier than their jobs did.
Meanwhile, there’s no doubt that pets can be expensive, but the benefits we receive from ownership are likely to make it all worth it. Here’s why we think that every woman would be wise to get herself some sort of pet…even if it’s just a few crickets.
Even Crickets Can Benefit Women’s Emotional Health
Pets are good for our health, both physically and mentally. While dog people may argue with cat people, and fish people shake their heads at bird people, studies have shown that in the end, it doesn’t really matter what sort of critter you have as a pet. The key is just having something to take care of.
Imagine giving one group of elderly people five crickets in a cage with detailed instructions as to how to take care of them, and giving another group only basic health advice. That’s just what researchers did. Eight weeks later, they found that those taking care of the crickets scored lower on the depression scale and showed improved mental health compared to the group that received only basic health advice.
“Caring for insects,” the researchers stated, “which is cost-effective and safe, was associated with a small to medium positive effect on depression and cognitive function in community-dwelling elderly people.”
Indeed, if lowly little old crickets can do all that, what might a cat or dog too? Turns out a lot more.
1. Pets Help Women Lower Their Risk of Heart Disease
One of the major findings in pet research is that pets can help us reduce our risk of heart disease. Since this is the number-one killer of all North Americans, this is a significant finding, and perhaps one of the most compelling reasons to own a pet.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that pets can decrease blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and feelings of loneliness—all factors that increase risk of heart disease.
There is such a strong connection between pet ownership and a healthier heart that even the American Heart Association (AHA) agrees that it’s a good idea. Pet owners are likely to be more active, for example, because they’re taking care of their pets. Dog owners, in particular, are likely to get out and walk more often than those without a dog.
Pets also provide social support, and recent research has indicated that having a close social circle is protective against heart disease. Indeed, a 2015 study indicated that pet owners were 60 percent more likely than non-pet owners to get to know people in their neighborhoods they hadn’t known before.
Other studies are even more surprising, showing that pet owners have lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and are more likely to survive heart attacks than people who don’t own pets. An AHA panel of experts even stated the following: “Pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, may be reasonable for reduction in cardiovascular disease risk.”
Don’t think it has to be a dog, though. There is plenty of evidence connecting cat ownership to a healthier heart, too. In 2009, researchers reported that cat owners had a 30 percent lower risk of suffering from a heart attack than those who didn’t have pets.
“Acquisition of cats as domestic pets may represent a novel strategy for reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases in high-risk individuals,” the researchers wrote.
2. Pets Are Great Stress Relievers for Women
As noted in the surveys above, women get a lot of emotional support from their pets. Ask a pet lover and she’ll tell you—her pet loves her whether or not she gains weight or loses her job. Pets give us a type of unconditional love that’s difficult to find anywhere else.
It’s not just the occasional love, hug, or purr that they have to offer, however. Studies show that pets can have a measurable effect on physical stress responses, including hormone levels. Typically when we’re stressed, levels of cortisol go up. It’s a natural reaction to stress, but in today’s world, we can experience elevated cortisol levels on a near chronic basis, which is bad for our health.
In a 2012 review, for instance, researchers found evidence in several studies that spending just a few minutes with a dog resulted in lower levels of cortisol in the blood and in the saliva. Even patients who were in the hospital with heart failure experienced lower adrenaline levels after a dog visit.
Many studies also show that pets can help reduce blood pressure and heart rate, providing an overall calmer feeling. Stroking a dog or cat has been shown to help reduce stress, helping owners to feel more relaxed and less preoccupied with their worries.
Having a pet around while doing a stressful activity, such as a math problem, can also help people better manage their stress. In one study, for example, people who worked on a math problem with a pet nearby experienced smaller increases in stress responses like blood pressure and heart rate than did participants who had their spouses nearby.
Indeed, a 2014 report from Harvard School of Public Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that nearly half of Americans felt more relaxed around their pets. Even just looking at your fish swimming around in their aquarium can help the stress fall off of you. Researchers reported in 2015 that people who spent time watching aquariums and fish tanks experienced measurable reductions in blood pressure and heart rate. They also just felt better.
3. Pets May Help Women Live Longer, Happier Lives
With all these benefits, it’s obvious that pets can make our lives better. But can they actually make them last longer?
Some research has suggested that they can. Berkeley Wellness reports that not only do pets improve quality of life, they may also help their owners live longer. There’s all that evidence about reducing heart disease, for example, including studies that show people who suffer from heart disease but own a pet have lower mortality rates than those who don’t have pets. Stroking a dog or cat has been shown to help reduce stress, helping owners to feel more relaxed and less preoccupied with their worries.
Pets enhance emotional and psychological well being, reducing anxiety and depression and increasing social support. They help relieve stress, encourage exercise, and improve recovery after surgery. They can even help boost the activity of the immune system. One study from Wilkes University reported that petting a dog for just a few minutes increased the body’s own defenses against germs.
More recent research is really diving into this idea that pets may extend our lives. Researchers from the University of Sydney started looking into it in 2015, with plans to use blood tests and laboratory controlled experiments to test whether dog owners live longer than people without pets. They also plan to compare longevity between dog owners and owners of other pets like cats, birds, and fish.
A 2016 study found that older people who care for dogs have a lower body mass index (BMI) than those who don’t, and make fewer visits to their doctors. They benefitted from the exercise of regular walks, and when these walks were conducted in green areas, such as near gardens, parks, and in the countryside, they were naturally exposed to nature, which has been found in related studies to reduce mortality risk.
In truth, outside of the studies showing that owning a pet reduces risk of heart attack and stroke, we don’t have any large clinical trials showing that pet ownership translates to longer life…yet. Some studies are underway and results should be in soon. We do have, however, major health organizations that agree pet ownership is so beneficial that doctors would be wise to recommend it for long-term health.
What pet is best for you? Though there’s no doubt that a dog, horse, or other larger animal is more likely to encourage you to exercise, not all women can manage such an active pet. If your job keeps you away from home for many hours, a cat, gerbil, or fish may be a better choice, though even cats and gerbils need their share of attention. Sometimes owning two can solve the problem.
The point is, there’s a pet out there perfect for you, and well worth the investment. If you’ve already got one, make a point to spend some time with it tonight. Your pet will love it, but you’re likely to enjoy it, too, and feel a lot better tomorrow because of it.
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