In America, we love our pets. According to the American Pet Products Association, more than 67% of U.S. households own at least one companion animal.

Snuggling and caring for a cat or dog doesn’t just make us feel good. Multiple medical studies suggest that pet owners are physically and mentally healthier than non pet owners. Some researchers say older adults are especially likely to experience the health benefits of pet ownership.

In honor of National Walk Your Dog Month, here are three of the most compelling ways owning a pet can help improve your cardiovascular, mental and physical well-being.

1. Healthier Hearts

Pets can have a profound impact on our cardiovascular health. According to studies published in the Journal of Hypertension, owning a pet has been linked with lower blood pressure and heart rates. In 2013, The American Heart Association went as far as issuing a statement suggesting that owning a pet, especially a dog, may reduce one’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Pets may also be good medicine for those who have already experienced heart issues. A 2013 study in the peer-reviewed publication Anthrozoös suggested that pet ownership was a predictor of long-term survival in people who had experienced a heart attack.

2. Improved Mental Health

Feeling anxious? Owning a pet, or even just spending time with animals, may help reduce symptoms of stress and overwhelm.

A 2017 study published in Frontiers in Psychology suggested that pet owners were able to recover faster from stressful events compared to non pet owners.

Animal therapy has also been shown to improve the well-being of people experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety — especially older adults.

Older adults with dementia and those who use wheelchairs or walkers are also more likely to experience the mental health benefits of animal therapy, according to studies published in Anthrozoös and Psychogeriatrics, respectively.

Perhaps most intriguing, in a recent University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging, nearly three-quarters of respondents age 50 to 80 said owning a pet gave them a sense of purpose.

3. Increased Activity

Pet owners, and dog owners especially, are more likely to be physically active than non pet owners, according to a Mayo Clinic Proceedings: Innovations, Quality & Outcomes report.

How much more active? Researchers at the University of Missouri found that dog owners walked an average of 300 minutes a week, almost twice as much as non-dog owners.

“In general, people who owned any pet were more likely to report more physical activity,” Andrea Maugeri, a researcher for the Mayo Clinic study, told U.S. News & World Report. “The greatest benefits from having a pet were for those who owned a dog, independent of their age, sex and education level.”

Seniors who enjoy an active lifestyle experience many health benefits, including reduced blood pressure and increased balance and flexibility, just to name a few.

Owning a pet also helps reduce loneliness in older adults, a serious health issue affecting many seniors living alone in Florida.

Pet Programs for Florida Seniors

For seniors living in Florida, there are multiple programs to help them reap the benefits of pet ownership.

Pets for the Elderly is a charity on a mission to connect seniors with shelter animals. Their foundation helps cover the adoption and pre-adoption medical fees for people over age 60 who rescue a companion dog or cat. They currently work with three Florida shelters. See the full list here.

Other local organizations, including the Central Florida Humane Society, also offer a special program for seniors living in Florida who want to adopt a pet over the age of 7.

Pets are welcome at Sonata Senior Living’s Florida assisted living communities. Our memory care communities also integrate animal-assisted therapy into our monthly programming. To learn more, call a community near you today or schedule a visit →

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