5 ways a pet can boost your health and help those who live alone

Did you know more than a quarter of people in the United States live by themselves?1 Many people may enjoy living on their own. However, it could also come with an increased risk of loneliness. That’s especially true if you’re 45 or older with 1 in 3 adults feeling lonely.2

Loneliness may affect your mental health, causing feelings of depression and anxiety.3 Plus, it may take a toll on your physical health. Loneliness can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and dementia.2

Studies suggest that spending time with a pet may help in reducing social isolation.3 Read on to learn how a pet could benefit your health.

How a pet might benefit your health

1. Helps you feel more connected

Social connections are important for overall wellness. “Pets are not superior to interpersonal relationships — but for older adults who have fewer social connections or who are less connected to others, pets may help replace some of that companionship,” says Dr. Aziz.3

Any pet owner will tell you the bond they have with their animal is special (many may rival a close human relationship). Pets offer unconditional love, explains Gail Saltz, M.D., a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York.

2. Expands your social circle

“Dog walkers already know this, but having a pet is a great way to connect with other people,” says Dr. Aziz. If you take your dog out in public, their cute little face and wagging tail could be a natural conversation starter. That bond with a fellow animal lover could be the start of a social connection — and may even help foster a friendship.

3. Creates purpose and daily routines

Knowing a pet relies on you may give you a reason to wake up in the morning and do certain activities. These could include things like feeding your pet breakfast or taking them for a walk. This daily routine and sense of purpose may help ease feelings of depression, Dr. Aziz adds.

4. Increases your activity levels

Having a dog, in particular, may help people get outside and be more active. People who have other pets, like cats, birds or reptiles might also enjoy similar activities. They may take them on a walk or out for a stroll at the pet store. For older adults, walking an extra quarter mile each day (inside or outside) lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.4

5. Benefits heart health

Loneliness can cause an inflammatory stress response, which may lead to heart problems.5 This same inflammatory response can also contribute to depression, notes Dr. Aziz. Having a pet you can walk may offer the most heart health benefits and may help reduce the risk of death from stroke and heart attack.6

Not quite ready to become a pet owner? Check with local organizations about visiting therapy animals. Or, choose to volunteer at a local animal shelter. That way, you’ll still reap the benefits of pet companionship without having to own a pet yourself. 

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