Nov 16, 2022 - Health

Axios Finish Line: The power of pets

Illustration of a human hand and dog paw high-fiving

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

This article originally appeared in Axios Finish Line, our nightly newsletter on life, leadership and wellness. Sign up here.

Humans have had pets for tens of thousands of years — but the research on whether dogs and other pets can actually boost our mental and physical health is still relatively new.

🖼️ The big picture: There are a slew of recent studies that have shown dog ownership can relieve stress and anxiety and push us to exercise more.

  • Less than 10 minutes of playing with or petting a pup can improve your mood, lower stress levels, and even decrease heart rate and blood pressure, research has shown.
  • Studies have also demonstrated that trained therapy dogs can bring comfort to veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder or homesick college students.
  • Dog owners also tend to walk about 20 minutes or 2,760 steps per day more than non-owners, according to one study. Getting a furry friend could especially help older adults for whom even a moderate increase in daily walking can significantly boost longevity.

🧠 Reality check: If you're not a pet person, or if you're allergic, not to worry.

  • While there are real perks to dog ownership, many of the wide-ranging studies that looked at whether having a dog improves heart health or does away with depression didn't find conclusive links, notes Hal Herzog, a psychologist at Western Carolina University who studies the human-animal bond.
  • "Not everybody is cut out to have a pet," says Herzog. And of course it's possible to be healthy and happy without pets in your life.

Case in point: Some 23 million people adopted pets during the pandemic, and as the world opened back up, many have had to reckon with the fact that pet ownership can be costly and limit freedom — and some have even returned their pets, the Washington Post reports.

🐕 Still, the overwhelming majority of pet parents say their pets make their lives better.

  • 77% of people with pets seek comfort from their animals "somewhat often" or "very often," per a recent YouGov survey.
  • 58% consider pets members of their families.
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