Instead of eating an apple a day to keep the doctor away, try petting an animal. Among several health benefits of stroking your pet is a lower blood pressure. This seems to work regardless of the type of pet, so pet your cat if you're a cat lover or your pooch if you're a dog person. According to the Los Angeles Times, even petting a goat can help your blood pressure.
Petting an animal seems to result in lower blood pressure than other types of interactions, including talking with another person. In a 2002 study published in Psychomatic Medicine, adults who owned pets had lower heart rates and blood pressures at rest as well as when mentally stressed, such as when asked to solve math problems. They also recovered their resting blood pressure levels faster than people who don't own pets. Children with high blood pressure tend to see lower levels when they enjoy time with a pet as well.
Researchers are trying to discover the exact reason why pets can positively affect your blood pressure, but most believe it's related to an increase in feel-good brain chemicals. Petting an animal releases chemicals such as seratonin, dopamine and endorphins. These chemicals improve your mood and make you more mentally alert, and they can even help you sleep better. Combined, these factors can help you handle stress better, which can lower blood pressure.
Petting as Therapy
The benefits of petting animals occur in people who aren't pet owners if they are allowed to interact with the animals. Therapy dogs, for example, often visit nursing homes and children's hospital wards, bringing some happy brain chemicals as residents and patients get a chance to pet the dogs. This can help lower their blood pressure, at least temporarily, and can help physical therapy patients deal with pain -- seratonin helps reduce pain sensitivity.
Other Health Benefits
Lower blood pressure isn't the only benefit you can enjoy from owning a pet; people with pets often have lower cholesterol and harmful triglyceride levels than non-pet owners. Children raised around pets, especially cats, tend to have fewer allergies than children in pet-free homes. Pet owners, particularly dog owners, tend to be more physically fit with fewer cases of obesity than non-pet owners, in part because they take their dogs for walks and for play time at parks.
- WebMD: Keep Blood Pressure in Check
- Journal of Behavioral Medicine: Cardiovascular Effects of Human-Pet Dog Interactions
- Los Angeles Times: Pets and Your Health -- the Good and the Bad
- Ladies Home Journal: Pet Smarts -- 8 Reasons Having a Dog or Cat is Good for Your Health
- NBC News: Puppy Love -- It's Better Than You Think
- Psychomatic Medicine: Cardiovascular Reactivity and the Presence of Pets, Friends, and Spouses -- the Truth About Cats and Dogs
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