The Secret to Aging Gracefully? Get a Pet

New data from the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging contains some information you’ve probably suspected — pets help you stay in good health as you age.

This survey collected data from about 2,000 U.S. adults from ages 50 to 80. Fifty-five percent of respondents said they owned at least one pet, with dogs being the most common, followed by cats and small animals. The vast majority said their pets boosted their mental and physical health; the type of pet didn’t seem to matter.

More specifically, almost 90% of older pet owners said their animals helped them enjoy life; about 80% said their pets reduced stress; and almost three-quarters said their pets gave them a sense of purpose. Also, 64% of pet owners — and 78% of dog owners — said their pets helped them stay physically active. Sixty percent said their pets helped them cope with physical and emotional health issues.

The findings weren’t all positive. Difficulties included complicating travel (54%) and financial strains (18%). Six percent of owners said they’d fallen or injured themselves as a result of having a pet. Fifteen percent said their pet’s health took precedence over their own.

But that shouldn’t discourage potential pet owners, since plenty of research has shown that just about anyone can benefit from a pet through lower stressreduced symptoms of depression and anxiety and greater physical activity. This new poll suggests pet ownership may be especially important for older adults. Animals may even serve as a catalyst for human friendships, since they often get their owners into more social situations.

And if owning a pet seems like too much of a responsibility (as it has for me), volunteering at an animal shelter or pet-sitting is always an option.

Taken from “Growing Old Is Better With a Pet. Here’s Why” by Jamie Ducharme (

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