Simple act of petting a friendly dog reduced blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension. DAILY PAWS/21102506
As we head into Movember and shine a light on men’s health, in particular mental health, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to look into the effects our pets have on our overall health and well-being.
Recognition of the positive effects that animals can
have on people isn’t new. Thirty years ago, researchers began investigating the
physical health effects experienced when people interacted with animals. They
found that the simple act of petting a friendly dog reduced blood pressure,
heart rate, and muscle tension – all physical signs of stress.
More recently, research has shown that petting or
playing with an animal for as little as five minutes not only lowers the levels
of the stress hormone, cortisol, but also stimulates the release of the
‘feel-good’ hormones (serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin) that are associated
with mood regulation and positive feelings. In fact, just making eye contact
with your dog can stimulate oxytocin release and boost your mood!
As a result, animal assistance programmes are growing
in popularity to take advantage of these positive effects (just like those
organised locally by Horses of Rarotonga). And it’s not just dogs and horses.
Even petting a turtle has been shown to relieve feelings of anxiety.
But what are some other positive effects of animal
ownership on our health and well-being? On top of a reduction in stress, pet
owners have been identified as having improved self-esteem and physical
fitness, as well as reduced feelings of loneliness (through companionship) and
a greater sense of belonging. Caring for a pet (even one as simple as a
goldfish!) can help to build a sense of responsibility in children and provide
security and routine. Animal attachment has also been shown to encourage social
interaction and relationship building skills.
This all sounds pretty good so far, but pet ownership
and animal care can come with practical and emotional burdens, such as
financial pressures or the loss of a pet. Sometimes simply the responsibility
of having a pet to take care of can take its toll. With this in mind, it’s
important that we each consider our individual circumstances when making the
decision to adopt a pet.
Many of us have experienced the joy of a dog greeting
us when we arrive home, or a cat purring happily on our lap. The unconditional
love that animals provide really can have a positive impact on our mental
health and well-being. So don’t forget to give your pet a cuddle – it might
just make your day!