Retired Couple Walking DogWhether it’s a dog greeting you at the door or a cat purring on your lap, animals play an important part in our lives. A recent poll found that more than half of adults aged 50 to 80 have a pet, such as a dog, cat, hamster, bird or fish.

Pets are not only loyal companions, but contribute to our overall well-being.

If you have an animal or are considering welcoming one into your home, read on to discover the ways that pets of all kinds can improve your health and quality of life.

Reduced Stress

Most older adults cite companionship as the main reason for having a pet, as the unconditional love they provide creates feelings of happiness. Our bodies respond biologically to these positive connections by increasing the levels of oxytocin in our brains. This hormone creates a calming effect that reduces fear, anxiety and depression.

While a dog or cat coming up to you may bring a smile to your face, smaller animals can also spark the same reaction. One study found that subjects who pet a rabbit or hard-shelled turtle experienced less anxiety, but those who were given a stuffed toy did not.

Improved Physical Health

Walking or playing with a pet lowers blood pressure and cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Almost half of older pet owners who are in fair or poor health say that having a pet takes their mind off of their physical symptoms and helps them cope with pain.

Owning a dog, in particular, can provide physical benefits. When you have a canine companion that needs to go outside, you’re more likely to head into the fresh air and get moving. People who walk dogs enjoy an average of half an hour more physical activity a day than those who don’t have a dog.

According to the American Heart Association, some studies associate owning a dog with longer life, particularly for heart attack or stroke survivors who live alone. This isn’t the sole reason for getting a pet, but being more active and less stressed can help you live a longer, healthier life.

Sense of Purpose

When you have a pet, there’s an animal that depends on you to fill their food bowl, give them attention, take them on walks and keep them healthy. Almost three-quarters of older adults say that having an animal to look after provides a sense of purpose and structure to their day.

Even small pets such as birds or fish can make a difference. One study asked adults over the age of 65 to care for crickets in a cage. These participants experienced more cognitive and mental health benefits than those who weren’t provided with insects to look after.

Social Connections

Having a pet may be particularly beneficial to those who feel lonely, as the emotional bond creates a sense of security and connection. Almost 90% of pet owners in this survey said that having an animal brings joy to their life and helps them to feel loved. Two-thirds feel their pets connect them to other people, whether it’s meeting neighbors while walking a dog or having something in common to talk about with other cat or bird owners.

Pets are welcome at Riddle Village, a retirement community in Pennsylvania where you can socialize, relax and keep fit. Contact us today to schedule a tour and learn more about living an active and comfortable lifestyle with your feline friends, canine companions and other precious pets.