There are so many reasons people get pets through their lifetime. Many of us probably got a dog when we had children, thinking they could help take care of it. And many of us may have or may turn to getting a new pet when our children leave the nest to help with the transition. For those without children, pets make a great companion. Bonus? They don't talk back! Whatever the reason, having a pet can help keep us healthy and brighten our outlook, particularly for people over fifty.
Numerous studies have been done to show how pets benefit our health. Pets reduce blood pressure and can decrease our risk of coronary heart disease, the most common cause of death for men and women over 60. Interacting with our pet releases the anti-stress hormone oxytocin and can decrease the primary stress hormone cortisol, helping us feel calmer and less anxious.
Having a pet, especially a dog to walk, keeps us moving and connected to our community. Walking is considered the best form of exercise for people over fifty; having a dog helps force you to fit a daily walk into your routine. Extra points if you play fetch with your furry friend.
Pet owners are less likely to experience depression or loneliness compared to people without a pet. Pets help brighten your mood and put a smile on your face and can be particularly helpful to people going through a significant life change, such as a divorce, death of a spouse, or children moving out. Pet owners over fifty are often more attentive to their pets, as the busy days of having young children and building a career are behind them. They have more time to dedicate to their pet, which can result in an even closer and more fulfilling bond.
If you have an elderly parent unable to care for a pet full-time, there are organizations that will bring the pets for weekly visits. A 2016 study showed that older adults experienced a decrease in blood pressure and heart rate from 'pet therapy' and an improvement in mood. Many places host such event weekly, such as libraries, so be sure to look around your community for such offerings.
While a large majority of research has been done with dogs, experts see some of the same benefits with all kinds of pets. If you're interested in getting a new pet, but aren't sure what type of pet to get (Dr. Seuss memories, anyone?), then this tool can be a good starting point. The flowchart helps pinpoint what type of pet may be best for your lifestyle and then it gives you some information on the most popular breeds for each type of pet.