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Health Wise with Crystal Han Your pet's role in your health I f you’ve ever owned a pet, you know how fun they can be. They make us laugh and entertain us. But research is quickly fi nding that pets do more for us than we may realize. Not only do our four-legged friends provide companionship, they improve our mental and physical health too! After a particularly difficult day, pet owners quite literally feel the love when they come home. Animals have a knack for sensing when we feel down or if there’s something wrong and they will often seek us out. This is especially helpful for people who suffer from depression or anxiety. Just looking into your pet’s eyes causes your brain to release oxytocin, which brings feelings of joy, and it decreases the stress hormone cortisol. Caring for our pets helps to distract us from negative thoughts and feelings, and it helps give us a sense of purpose, which is very important when dealing with depression. Animals do wonders for self-esteem as well. Your pets could care less about what you look like or the mistakes you’ve made, and you don’t ever have to explain yourself to them. They’re just happy to be around you and have your love and attention. The calming, steadfast presence of a pet is also perfect for people recovering from physical or emotional trauma. Studies have shown that veterans and people suffering from PTSD had an easier time transitioning back into everyday life when they had an animal companion to care for. Prisons that have pet programs have shown an increase in social sensitivity among inmates who participated in the program, as well as a decrease in aggression and depression. Many of the inmates believe that the animals help them deal with anger, teach them patience, and make their time in prison easier. In hospitals, patients who receive pet therapy after surgery required less pain medication than those who didn’t have an animal companion, and they had a quicker overall recovery time. All of the emotional bonding you do with your pets naturally goes on to positively affect your physical health too. The more we care for our pets, the more our stress levels go down. This can do a number of things, including reducing symptoms of chronic pain from arthritis or migraines, and lowering blood pres- sure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. Studies of dog owners have shown that they have a significantly lower chance of cardiovascular disease than those who didn’t own a dog, mainly because dogs prompt people to stay active and live a healthier lifestyle. This is especially true for people who own high-energy dogs or big dogs that require more exercise. Cat owners also experience heart health benefits. Researchers conducted a 20- year study on cat owners and found that they had a lower risk of heart attack than non-cat owners. Even those who had already suffered from a heart attack were shown to have a significantly faster recovery time if they owned a cat. It is believed that this is because cats are low maintenance in terms of care and that the simple act of petting a cat has an immense calming effect. It also helps that cats purr at a frequency of 20 to 50Hz, which has been shown to relieve pain, increase bone density, and heal tendons and muscles. GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2018 While this is mostly beneficial for the cat, snuggling up to them during a purr session can help you too! People thrive from positive social interactions, and there’s no better helper for this than our pets. Whether we’re at the grocery store, the gym, or the office, the one thing that can really get us talking is our pets. If you own a dog, it’s almost a guarantee that you’ll talk to at least one person while you’re out on a walk, which could easily help you meet a new walking buddy, best friend, or even the love of your life. Pets are also a great way to bridge the gap between family members, such as grandparents and grandchildren. Talking about a pet gives them common ground, which can eventually foster conversations about everything else. The more meaningful connections pets help us form with others, the more satisfied we feel about our overall lives, which translates to better overall health. While the majority of studies focus on the health benefits of owning dogs and cats, the truth is that any animal can positively influence your health. Research shows that people who viewed pets as part of the family were the ones most likely to display positive effects, proving that it’s not about the pet itself, but the bond you share. So if you’re thinking about getting a pet friend, remember, it’s all about the love! Sources: Davis Lerche, Jeanie, “5 Ways Pets Can Improve Your Health”, WebMD, Oaklander, Mary, “Science Says Your Pet is Good for Your Mental Health”, TIME Health, 39