The day Tiffany told me that she wanted a dog I was a little apprehensive. I hadn't had a dog since childhood so I wasn't sure I had what it took to be a good dog owner. But I wanted to be supportive and I was willing to study, learn and try my best to embrace the opportunity. I knew I had the raw ingredients to provide a good home for any pet. Patience, a kind heart, and the mindset to set proper rules, boundaries and limitations. We did our research and found the perfect match for our family. We decided on a lilac Miniature Chinese Shar-Pei. We traveled to Bonaparte, IA and picked up Mr. Sylas who was just a little over 8 weeks old. He rode home in my lap and from that day forward I knew everything was going to be okay.
I was surprised that this creature was capable of so much empathy and love. It was like he could read the thoughts of me and Tiffany and wanted us to know we were loved in the midst of whatever is going on.
He continues to be a supportive presence in my life and helps balance Tiffany's stress levels.
A substantial amount of evidence shows that pets improve our mental health and well-being. I've read great stories of pets improving the lives of many almost on a daily basis.
Here are 3 ways pets improve our health that can be backed up with significant research.
1. Pets can alter behavior.
I can spend my entire day sometimes talking to clients about the ups and downs of the healthy lifestyle journey. You would think all my conversations would be sunshine and rainbows. But it isn't. Anytime someone is trying to change their lifestyle things can be dark sometimes. But when my Sylas walks up to me and pats at me for some attention things suddenly start to shift. So I kneel down and pet him. He licks my face, and I smile. He altered my behavior. I am no longer thinking about anything else but being in that moment with him. We calm down when we are with our pets. We slow our breath, our speech, and our minds. Pets take us out of our heads and into another reality. There reality is one that only involves food, water, affection, and maybe an animal butt. It’s tough to sit in negative feelings when your dog is breathing in your face.
2. Pets need routine and consistency.
Your healthy lifestyle journey is about establishing a solid routine and maintaining consistency over time. Pets love routine. Taking care of a pet brings structure to our day. Sylas wakes up at the same time everyday. Sleeping until the sun comes up is no longer a possibility unless I want to spend an hour cleaning up the next day. Staying out for long periods takes proper planning and some forethought. For you to be successful at living a healthy lifestyle requires the same qualities.
3. Pets offer a soothing presence and unconditional love.
Studies show that watching fish lowers blood pressure and muscle tension in people about to undergo oral surgery. Other research shows that pet owners have lower blood pressure and heart rate both before and while performing stressful mental tasks. Individuals recovering from heart attacks recover faster and survive longer when there is a pet at home. The mere presence of a pet is beneficial.
As far as we know, pets are without opinions, critiques, and judgement. Even if you smell like you just got home from the gym, they will snuggle up next to you. And I know for a fact I can spill the beans to Sylas about what I am feeling and divulge my innermost thoughts and not be judged.
4. Pets promote touch.
The healing power of touch is irrefutable. Research shows a 45 minute massage can decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol and optimize your immune system by building white blood cells. Hugging floods our bodies with oxytocin, a hormone that reduces stress, and lowers blood pressure and heart rates. And, according to a University of Virginia study, holding hands can reduce the stress-related activity in the hypothalamus region of the brain, part of our emotional center. The touch can actually stop certain regions of the brain from responding to threat clues. It’s not surprising, then, that stroking a dog or cat can lower blood pressure and heart rate and boost levels of serotonin and dopamine.