Sometimes the best medication for the pressures of modern life has a tail and a meow or a bark. When you adopt a pet, you set yourself up for less stress, anxiety, and loneliness, plus reduced depression, more exercise, and even better heart health. All these benefits come along with a big dose of unconditional love and affection. The bond between humans and their pets benefits humans and animals – and the joy it brings can expand happiness exponentially.
Dog parents take their pets out for walks that double as potty breaks. Even those around-the-block trips count as exercise, and if you expand your range to hike or run with your best friend, you’re building a routine that’s good for both of you. Dog behavior improves when canines burn off excess energy with productive activity, and as the exercise leader, you establish a routine of your own, one that can help you stay fit, as well.
And if you think it’s impossible to walk a cat, think again: Many felines relish the opportunity to explore their neighborhood, and take to a leash and harness with aplomb.
Isolation breeds loneliness, which can lead to depression. Your pet becomes a vital part of your family, someone who listens tirelessly when you talk about what’s bothering you, who waits for you to come home and greets you with joy. When you take care of another living creature, you give yourself a fulfilling opportunity to feel needed and wanted. Even big problems seem less overwhelming when you stare into a bright pair of loving eyes.
Want to feel calm and centered? Pet your pet. When you use the sense of touch to interact with an animal, you help reduce the stress hormone cortisol and lower your blood pressure. You also reduce muscle tension, increase your sense of calm, and improve your outlook. Your levels of serotonin and dopamine, the hormones that relax your nerves and help you stay calm, rise when you play with your pet. The same interactions stimulate the release of oxytocin, another natural stress reducer.
The older we get, the more our familiar connections can begin to loosen. Our circle of friends and family members shrinks, as distance and loss deprive of us many of the people who made up our expected network of connections. We shed our working routines, and with them some aspects of our sense of self. For older adults, a pet can ease the pain of loss, promote a sense of meaning and self worth, and provide companionship that offers as much value as human interaction.
Adopting a pet means making a commitment—one that can last for decades and involve ongoing expenses for care and feeding. If you’re a pet person with the means to bring a cat or dog into a comfortable lifestyle, the benefits to your mental and physical health will pay off as much as the happiness you’ll feel.