Pets may promote healthy aging and add life to your years

Pets may promote healthy aging and add life to your years

Aging well is about adding more life to your years; not just adding more years to your life. We all want to “keep what we’ve got” (i.e. physical and mental health, independence, social connectedness, cognitive functioning) as we age. In an effort to do just that, some research suggests pet ownership may be helpful.

A report entitled “The Role of Pets in Human Healthy Active Aging, published by the Gerontological Society of America finds interacting with animals has shown to:

  • Reduce some of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as lower systolic blood pressure, triglycerides and cholesterol,
  • Slow the progression of existing disease, and
  • Aid in survival of a cardiovascular event.

While it’s unknown how pet ownership actually promotes healthy aging here are a few possibilities:

  • Dog owners walk more minutes per week than non-dog owners, and were less sedentary. Dog owners, aged 71-82, were more than twice as likely to maintain their mobility over a 3-year period as compared to non-dog owners.
  • People who share their homes with pets have healthier responses to stress. Pet ownership appears to mitigate the negative health consequences of stress.
  • Owning a pet may reduce loneliness in older adulthood.
  • Caring for a pet can help us to feel needed and can enhance our feeling of self-worth.
  • Pets enhance feeling of being protected and safe. Dogs, in particular, appear to heighten feelings of safety and security.
  • Animals act as a catalyst for positive social interaction among people. Pets have the ability to create connections that transcend social differences.

Research also shows people with cognitive impairment benefit from interaction with animals. Animal-assisted therapy sessions decreased agitated behaviors and increased social interaction in nursing home residents with dementia. It seems animals have the potential to help us age well.

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