Four ways having a pet increases your lifespan

January 18, 2018 by Janette Young, The Conversation
Waking up to this every morning would surely give you more will to live. Credit: Unsplash/jonathan daniels, CC BY-SA

Pet owners will often swear their beloved pooch or moggie does wonders for their wellbeing, and now we have empirical proof. A new study has found dog ownership is linked to improved heart health for humans. This is an important finding, given heart disease is the leading cause of death globally.

While the new study focuses on dogs and , it raises the broader question of how affects human longevity. Can pets create in humans?

A study known as the "blue zone" study has focused on factors affecting longevity for over a decade. Nine factors have been identified as increasing lifespan in the communities studied, and many of these factors are increased by pets.

1. Natural everyday movement

Much of the focus on pets providing health has been on dog walking. But anyone who owns a pet knows there are numerous incidental physical activities associated with pet ownership – like getting up to feed their pet; ensuring the pet's food and water is available; and looking after pet "accommodation".

Reducing prolonged sitting and increasing incidental domestic activity have both been shown to be protective with regard to health risks.

Pets provide nudges to everyday movement.

2. Having a sense of purpose

At the very simplest level, pets can provide "a reason to get up in the morning".

This has been shown to be particularly important for groups at risk of, or experiencing, poorer health – including the aged, people with long-term mental illness and chronic diseases (including youth).

Our (as-yet-unpublished) research interviewing older people about the impact of their pets on health has found pets could be protective against suicide. Pets are seen as reliant on their owners functionally ("need me to feed them or they will die") and emotionally ("he would pine for me terribly").

Feeling unneeded and of no use has been identified as a key risk factor in suicide.

3. Regular destressing activities

Interaction with pets can reduce stress. There is evidence petting an animal may reduce heart rates, and co-sleeping with pets may improve some people's quality of sleep.

4. Belonging and commitment

It's in the area of relationships (three of the nine "blue zone" factors) that pets may have their most powerful role in longevity.

Pets can act as a social catalyst, promoting social connections, conversations, and even leading to the development of networks of practical support (a form of commitment).

The connectivity of pets can even include non-pet owners, as people feel safer in pet-owning neighbourhoods. Hence, pets can enable a sense of communal belonging identified as increasing longevity.

The role pets play in mental health (as compared to physical health) may be where the strongest connection to individual longevity lies. There is an established link between heart disease and mental unwellness.

Improving mental wellbeing (often through social enhancements) may be key in extending life expectancy, especially for population groups vulnerable to poor social connectedness. These groups often have lower life expectancy.

People with long-term mental illness, autism, and the homeless report their pets as providing nonjudgmental, simpler relationships than those with humans.

Older people report pets reducing loneliness and social isolation. Pets may improve vulnerable people's interaction with others either directly (improving social skills), or their social catalyst role can override social prejudice.

Why we need to take pets and health seriously

In acknowledging people's connection to their pets, we save lives. In disasters, people die staying with, returning to, and trying to save pets. Disaster management planning is increasingly responding to and harnessing this reality, preventing deaths.

It's also being recognised women stay with violent partners for fear of what will happen to pets. Pet-friendly escape options can save lives.

Public policies that support , especially in vulnerable groups, have health-promoting outcomes.

It's important to remember animals are not "things" – they are living, breathing others. Simplistic understandings ("one pat of a pet per day") risk endangering animals (overlooking their needs; abuse), and some humans (phobias, allergies).

But for the millions of people who choose to have pets, often seeing them as family, increasing longevity is not the point. They add richness, creating lives worth living (longer) for.

Explore further: Your pets can't put your aging on 'paws'

Related Stories

Your pets can't put your aging on 'paws'

December 14, 2017
(HealthDay)—In a finding that's sure to ruffle some fur and feathers, scientists report that having a pet doesn't fend off age-related declines in physical or mental health.

Children get more satisfaction from relationships with their pets than with siblings

January 26, 2017
Children get more satisfaction from relationships with their pets than with their brothers or sisters, according to new research from the University of Cambridge. Children also appear to get on even better with their animal ...

Pets offer valuable support for owners with mental health problems

December 8, 2016
Pets can help people manage their long-term mental health conditions, according to research published in the open access journal BMC Psychiatry.

Largest-ever study of pets and kids' health finds no link

August 7, 2017
Contrary to popular belief, having a dog or cat in the home does not improve the mental or physical health of children, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

Fears for pets can put abused women at further risk, according to research

June 27, 2017
As researchers looking into the intersection of abuse against people and animals, we asked survivors of intimate partner violence in shelters across Canada about a normally pleasant topic: their pets.

Recommended for you

Babies and toddlers at greater risk from second-hand smoke than previously thought, study finds

December 16, 2018
Infants and toddlers in low-income communities may be even more at risk from second- and third-hand smoke exposure than has been believed, according to new federally supported research.

A co-worker's rudeness can affect your sleep—and your partner's, study finds

December 14, 2018
Rudeness. Sarcastic comments. Demeaning language. Interrupting or talking over someone in a meeting. Workplace incivilities such as these are becoming increasingly common, and a new study from Portland State University and ...

A holiday gift to primary care doctors: Proof of their time crunch

December 14, 2018
The average primary care doctor needs to work six more hours a day than they already do, in order to make sure their patients get all the preventive and early-detection care they want and deserve, a new study finds.

Teens get more sleep with later school start time, researchers find

December 12, 2018
When Seattle Public Schools announced that it would reorganize school start times across the district for the fall of 2016, the massive undertaking took more than a year to deploy. Elementary schools started earlier, while ...

Large restaurant portions a global problem, study finds

December 12, 2018
A new multi-country study finds that large, high-calorie portion sizes in fast food and full service restaurants is not a problem unique to the United States. An international team of researchers found that 94 percent of ...

Receiving genetic information can change risk

December 11, 2018
Millions of people in the United States alone have submitted their DNA for analysis and received information that not only predicts their risk for disease but, it turns out, in some cases might also have influenced that risk, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.