Here's Why Having a Pet After 50 Makes You a Healthier Person

Just be extra careful while walking them.

dog gazes lovingly into the eyes of elderly owner as he sits on his chest.
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As a dog owner I view dogs as the solution to just about every problem. Lonely? Get a dog. Depressed? Get a dog. Feeling stressed? Get a dog! If I were a doctor with a prescription pad, I think every page would just be a doodle of a goldendoodle. Now, a new study conducted by the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation proves that having a pet really does carry enormous health benefits—especially for older adults.

The researchers surveyed more than 2,000 adults aged 50 to 80 in October 2018. More than half of them (55 percent) had pets, the majority of which were dogs (68 percent), followed by cats (48 percent), or a small pet such as a bird or a hamster (16 percent). They discovered that the benefits of having these companions can't be overstated.

Around 88 percent of pet owners said that their pets helped them enjoy life, 86 percent said they made them feel loved, 79 percent reported that they reduced their stress levels, 62 percent said they helped them stick to a routine, and 73 percent said they provided a sense of purpose. The majority of respondents also said their pets helped them connect with others, made them more physically active, and eased their physical or emotional pain.

On the flip-side, more than half of respondents (54 percent) said that having a pet made it difficult to travel or leave the house for extended periods of time, and 18 percent of them said it put a strain on their budget. One in six pet owners also said that they prioritize their pet's health over their own, and a small minority (6 percent) said their pets have caused them to fall or otherwise injure themselves. This corroborates with a recent study that found that walking a dog on a leash leads to an increase in the risk of bone fractures for seniors.

It's all a healthy reminder that becoming a pet owner is a serious decision that should not be undertaken without taking into account some of the drawbacks and sacrifices you might have to make.

"Later life is often a time when people have more freedom to travel, and a long list of things they want to do with their free time, and sometimes having a pet can get in the way," Mary Janevic, an assistant research scientist at the U-M School of Public Health and the designer of the poll, said. "For people living on a fixed income, expenses related to health care for pets, and especially pets that have chronic health issues, can be a struggle."

However, if you can afford a pet and are comfortable with the ways they may complicate your life, there's no denying that the good outweighs the bad. After all, while walking a dog may increase your risk of injury, it can also significantly extend your lifespan. And recent research has even found that dogs can smell seizures before they start, detect the early stages of cancer, and alert owners with diabetes when their blood sugar levels fall dangerously low.

Amazing, right?! And for more on the many ways these furry companions serve make you a healthier person, check out the 30 Mind-Blowing Health Benefits of Pets.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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