Animals have a long history of supporting vulnerable members of society, from Guide Dogs for the Blind to Medical Detection Dogs. But it’s not just people with sight problems or life-threatening health conditions that can benefit from owning a pet. A recent study by the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International revealed that pet ownership could save the NHS up to £2.45billion a year through reducing the number of visits to a doctor, taking into account the influence of pet ownership on human mental and physical health, illness prevention and wellbeing.
According to new research from AXA PPP healthcare, 56% of Brits say that taking time to relax, or ‘me time’, impacts their ability to deal with life’s setbacks.
“Taking care of and spending time with a pet is a great way to give yourself some headspace to deal with life’s setbacks and challenges,” explains Eugene Farrell, mental health expert at AXA PPP healthcare. “Walking your dog – or even borrowing one from a neighbour or local animal rescue centre – can do wonders for your wellbeing as it combines moderate exercise with taking a break from work or household chores and getting some fresh air. Similarly, caring for other types of pets can help us take time out of our busy schedules which can help us gain perspective and recharge our batteries.”
The Mental Health Foundation has reported that stroking, sitting next to or playing with a pet relaxes and calms the mind, helping to give pet owners some much needed ‘me time’ to improve their mood and overall health. Google Trends research by the healthcare provider reveals a 296% increase between March 2007 and March 2017 for the term ‘how to relax’, in the UK.
AXA PPP healthcare shares its 5 top reasons why living with pets is good for our minds and bodies:
1. Unconditional love. However bad your day’s been, you’ll have someone who depends on you to shower you with affection. The British Medical Journal believes the emotional bond between owner and pet can be as intense as that in many human relationships and may confer similar psychological benefits.
2. Routine. The responsibilities that come with owning a pet can give your day purpose, reward and a sense of achievement. Regular routines and rituals are said to help forge discipline, help energy management and support mental space. The Dogs Trust also highlights that a good routine is vital for your dog’s wellbeing too.
3. Lower risk of heart disease. Owning a pet can reduce your risk of developing heart disease. It may be that dog owners naturally do more exercise, but pets also play a role in providing social support, encouraging you to stick with a new habit or adopting a healthy behaviour. Owning a cat has also been associated with a reduced rate of dying from cardiovascular disease (CVD) and stroke, due to the stress-relieving effects of animal companionship.
4. Socialising. Pets can act as a social icebreaker between strangers, or as a catalyst for social interaction. Research suggests that dog walkers experience significantly higher social capital (interactions and relationships) than non-dog walkers.
5. Boost to mental wellbeing. Studies have found that dog owners are less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets and ownership can reduce stress and anxiety levels. Playing with a dog or cat can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax.
Society is recognising the increasingly important role that pets play in our lives. Some businesses encourage their workers to bring their dogs to into the workplace, including literary agency Dunlop and Nestlé, with one employer claiming that having a dog in the office doesn’t just keep her happy, it keeps her sane. There are also a number of pet cafes popping up over the UK, where you can enjoy a coffee whilst taking some me time with a feline or canine friend.
If you own a dog, why not try AXA PPP healthcare’s latest #TRYit challenge which helps tackle some of the basic foundations of resilience, like giving ourselves some ‘me time’, taking moderate exercise and getting sufficient good quality sleep so we can set ourselves us to thrive.