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How Pets Can Keep You Healthy and Happy

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By Mikkie Mills

Pets often become our best friends, and becoming a pet owner can improve your lives in lots of unexpected ways. Pets inspire us to live life more fully, and even though they may cost us a lot of money and test our patience, they ultimately make us better people. Owning a pet has been scientifically proven to boost our moods, offer emotional support and even alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Here are five ways pets make our lives better. Take a moment to read through and appreciate the ways your own furry friend brightens your life. The next time you're headed to the store for some pet carpet cleaner, you may feel a little less annoyed when you remember all the ways your furry friend improves your life.

1. They Get Us Moving

We're supposed to exercise at least 175 minutes a week according to the Center for Disease Control, but the couch is a lot more appealing than the gym after a long day at work. When you own a pet, you can't slack-off and forgo exercise.

One study published in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health found that 60-percent of dog owners walked for 160 minutes on average, which was significantly higher than people who didn't own a dog. More time spent outdoors doesn't just keep you active, but it can also lift your spirits thanks to an increased amount of Vitamin D.

2. They Lower the Risk of Heart Disease

Owning a pet lowers your risk of heart disease. Studies have linked dog ownership to lower levels of cholesterol and a lower risk of obesity, two high risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Other studies have found that cat owners are less likely to suffer a heart attack and cut the risk of a stroke down by one-third.

3. They Help Us Connect with Others More

Pets are always a great conversation starter. Whether you're stopped by a stranger who wants to pet your dog or showing off a funny picture of your cat to a coworker, pets give us a chance to connect with our fellow humans more often.

When you struggle with social anxiety or don't find it easy to socialize with others, pets offer an icebreaker that can lead to meaningful connections that lift our spirits and build confidence. There are also plenty of meet-up groups and social events organized around pet ownership that make it easier to get out of the house and meet new people.

4. They Help Treat Mental Illness

Pet ownership lowers stress levels and depression. In a survey by the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute, 74-percent of pet owners said their companions helped improve their mental health. The National Alliance on Mental Illness published an article that outlined the ways dogs can help with depression.

Cats also offer companionship and emotional support that helps owners cope with the often debilitating symptoms of anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses. In addition, pets serve as a source of accountability that keeps their owners active and gets them out of bed on days they otherwise wouldn't be able to.

5. They Help Produce Happy Hormones

Petting a dog or cat can lower the level of cortisol, the stress hormone, and increase the production of positive hormones like dopamine and oxytocin. Greater excretion of these hormones lowers our blood pressure, puts us in better moods and helps us develop a better outlook on life in general.

Pets remind us to focus on the present. Even when life is tough, we can turn to our furry companions and feel less lonely. No matter what, you can always rely on your cat or dog to be waiting for you at the end of a long day. Let's all take a moment to give our cats or dogs an extra belly rub or head scratch as a thank you for the unconditional love and joy they bring into our lives.

About Mikkie Mills: “I’m a Chicago native who loves to share her expertise about personal development and growth. When I’m not writing, I’m chasing the little ones around or rock climbing at the local climbing gym.” More articles by Mikkie.

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