When your mind and body are balanced, your brain is more balanced, too. Taking time for your mental and emotional health has long lasting impacts on brain health, but what about the time you take out of your day to care for your pets?
It turns out that you aren’t just enriching their lives. A newly released study from the American Academy of Neurology shows us that when you’re paying it forward for your pets, you’re actually improving your own brain health!
This very special human-animal bond has been linked towards better cardiovascular health and lower rates of stress; and we’re all familiar with the concept of therapy animals. Pets, however, are doing more than just offering us a reason to smile at the end of a hard day: their presence in our lives are actually slowing our cognitive decline as we age.
Following over one thousand older adults (about 65 years of age on average) for six years, the study noted that over half of the adults in the study owned pets and 32% had owned pets for more than five years. None of the adults had any cognitive declines present at the start of the study. They were given cognitive tests as they aged for the six-year period.
The people who owned pets experienced less cognitive decline overall, and those considered long-term pet owners (having the same pet for more than 5 years) were rated 1.2 points higher on a cognitive composite scale at the end of the six-year study than those who didn’t own any pets.
While the research is compelling, there isn’t a clear answer yet to why this cognitive benefit occurred. Some researchers hypothesize it might correlate with a higher rate of physical activity from being more active due to a pet in their life, such as walking a dog, but the study didn’t differentiate if all the benefits were associated with owning a dog rather than another type of animal. Higher rates of physical activity is known to benefit the brain from the extra blood flow.
It’s likely that a combination of stress relief, companionship, and better mental health from our relationship with our pets also plays a vital role in protecting our brains from cognitive decline. Whatever the actual reason, it’s just one more reason to love them.