People with pets — particularly dogs — are markedly healthier than those without. Living with a dog makes us far more likely to spend time outside, according to one report. The reasons are obvious: Dogs encourage us to take them outside every time they need a bathroom break.
One 2015 study found that sustained eye contact between humans and their dogs elicits the same release of oxytocin — the love hormone — that occurs during mother–child bonding. Medical anthropologist Kim Kelly, PhD, who researches the role pets play in enhancing the human microbiome at the University of Arizona, says she couldn’t ignore the way dogs also bonded with older humans during a recent study. “I had one woman tell me she doesn’t know how she smiled before,” Kelly says.
In addition to these benefits, several studies have found that children who are exposed to animals early in life are less likely to develop allergies.
- If you have a dog, take longer, more frequent walks together.
- Consider letting your pup snooze with you in your bedroom. A Mayo Clinic study suggests this can improve sleep quality.
- If you don’t or can’t have a pet, consider volunteering at an animal shelter.
- When you’re outdoors, pay attention to the birds and animals you see; tuning in to wildlife helps calm the fight-or-flight instinct.
- Book a farm retreat, where you can help milk cows, collect eggs, and care for other animals. (To learn more about animal sanctuaries, visit “Safe Havens for Animals.”)