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We’ve known for a long time that pets enrich our lives, but recent scientific studies go even further than that. They say that animals actually improve our minds and bodies. If you’re an animal lover, you will agree with a 1993 report in the Harvard Health Letter that explained that companion animals offer us unconditional love. It doesn’t matter how we look, or what kind of car we drive, or what our educational background is, they love us consistently, and without judgment. That kind of love contributes greatly to our overall physical and psychological health, the study states. Pets are powerful medicine; a miracle drug of sorts, even!

Of course, human companionship is extremely important for our well being. But these days, a growing number of women live alone, especially older women, often in isolation. This, studies show, contributes greatly to a rise in blood pressure, which, of course, can increase the risk of stroke and heart attack. However, a four legged friend has been shown nearly as effective as human companionship in keeping blood pressure down. A purring cat in a lap is calming; a wagging tail entices a smile and good spirits.

As a matter of fact, studies of elderly women with pets, but with limited human contact, show they had blood pressure readings nearly as low as younger women who had many supportive friends. And another amazing study showed that pets taken to nursing homes or hospitals to visit with the residents instantly enriched those peoples lives. Even patients who had been unresponsive for months, have come to life at the sight of a four legged visitor. As hands reach out to stroke furry heads, smiles light up their faces. They suddenly feel better than they had in months. All because of a furry miracle “drug.”

If you own a loving pet companion, your risk factor for cardiovascular disease is lower. You reap unexpected health benefits from your pet in the form of lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol. All this, and the enjoyment a family dog, cat, bird or rabbit, too. And studies also show that people who have suffered a heart attack die at a greater rate during the first year after the attack than those that own pets.

Even studies on children report on the benefits of pets on young lives. They say children who care for an animal have better social skills. They tend to be more supportive and share more easily. They are better at understanding other children’s feelings. And emotionally disturbed children, treated with animal therapy, respond much quicker and better.

There can be no doubt that pets reduce feelings of stress in humans. A dog can sense when you’re upset, and come and sit by you and make you feel better. The support of a loving pet can influence our entire life span!