Those of you with pets can already attest to the many ways that your furry friend improves your life. But did you know they also contribute to your physical and emotional well-being? Read on to discover five ways pets improve your health.

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Heart Health

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) have both conducted heart-related studies on people with pets. They found that pet owners have lower blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels — all factors that affect overall heart health.

More Exercise

If you have a dog, you have to walk it. Even if walking isn’t the most intense form of exercise, it’s better than nothing, especially if you’re trying to lose weight. Research shows that if you’re holding the leash, you’re more likely to lose, or at least maintain, your weight. Owners who walk their dogs are 54% more likely to meet the recommended levels of physical activity than those who don’t, and are also less likely to be obese.

Less Stress

Simply looking at your pet is beneficial! Being in the same room with an animal you consider a companion releases the neurochemical oxytocin, which results in feelings of joy. Plus, it helps decrease cortisol, a stress hormone.

Less Pain

If you suffer from chronic pain, having a pet around can offer some relief. When you pet your four-legged friend, it releases endorphins, which are powerful pain relievers. In fact, a study conducted at Loyola University Chicago found that people who underwent surgery used less pain medication when they received pet therapy.

Higher Self Esteem

Your pet thinks you are the greatest thing since sliced bread. Scratch that, your pet things you’re the greatest thing ever. And you can feel it. Research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that pet owners have higher self-esteem, as well as feelings of belonging and meaningful existence than non-owners. The unconditional love provided by a pet is invaluable to your sense of worth. They don’t care what you look like, how much money you have, or whether you went to the gym today. They love you no matter what.