Pets aren’t just animals that you own. Having one of them can help you relieve stress, be better emotionally, keep you physically active and even lead to overall wellness. The following are some health benefits attributed to having pets, and the studies to back them up.

Having a Pet is Proven to Relieve Stress

Playing with or petting an animal can increase your levels of the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin and decrease production of the stress hormone cortisol. These hormonal changes can help anyone, even nervous children and make them feel more relaxed about doing difficult things such as reading a passage aloud in front of an audience.

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Having a pet is proven to relieve stress, and is even advised by medical professionals in treating psychological and emotional anomalies. Of course, reduced stress instantly translates to improved physical health. Animals, particularly dogs, are often used to help individuals manage high stress levels. For example, veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), stressed out students and anxious children are just a few groups that experience less stress in the presence of a pet.

Researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University examined stress levels of employees who brought their dogs to work, employees who left their dogs at home and employees who didn’t own a pet. They found that dog owners whose dogs were present at work reported less stress over the course of the workday, while those with a dog at home or no dog at all reported an increase in their stress levels.

In the same study, researchers found that the effect of pets for reducing the impact of stress and enhancing communication in other settings may be extended to the workplace. This meant that employees directly benefit by having pets around them, most especially when they can have them around in their place of employment.

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Pet presence may serve as a low-cost wellness intervention readily available to many organizations, and it may enhance organizational satisfaction and perceptions of support. As such, it is important to have policies in place to ensure only friendly, clean and well-behaved pets are present in the workplace.

Having Pets Encourages Physical Activity, and That’s Good for Almost Anyone

Whether it’s running, throwing a frisbee or simply walking, dogs encourage owners to get outside and move. According to studies, dogs help their owners stay active and dog owners are 54 percent more likely to get the recommended amount of exercise when compared with other adults.

Researchers also compared people with borderline high blood pressure who have adopted dogs with others who wanted dogs but had their pet adoption purposefully delayed for the study. The result was surprising still. Those who brought home their dogs saw declines in blood pressure and were less likely to see their blood pressure and heart rates rise in response to stress from physical activities of varying degrees.

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There was good evidence, according to another study, that the strength of the dog-owner relationship, through a sense of obligation to walk the dog and the perceived support and motivation a dog provides, is strongly associated with increased rates of walking as an exercise. The perceived exercise requirements of the dog had also been a modifiable point for intervention.

“In addition, access to suitable walking areas with dog supportive features that fulfil dog needs such as off-leash exercise, and that also encourage human social interaction, may be incentivizing,” the study concluded.

Pets can also boost owner’s heart health as a result of the increased physical activity that they promote. According to the American Heart Association, dog ownership may reduce the risk of having cardiovascular ailments, likely as a result of owners walking their pets. Owning pets may also be associated with a lower risk of obesity, lower blood pressure, less stress and lower cholesterol levels. All of these can have a positive impact on the heart.

Research also says that simply interacting with a dog can provide heart-health benefits. In a 2007 study performed out of UCLA, researchers provided therapy dogs for patients hospitalized with heart failure. They has found that after a 12-minute visit, patients exhibited improved cardiopulmonary pressures, healthier neurohormone levels and less anxiety.

Being a Pet Owner Improves Emotional Health

The simple yardstick to measure whether people are emotionally healthy could be judged if the person is resilient, self-confident and capable of developing strong, healthy relationships. A 2011 study reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology has found that pet owners shared many of the same characteristics.

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This is because having a pet subconsciously helps a great deal with the betterment of people especially with their emotional health. Be it from just not feeling alone because a pet can keep you company, or getting that good feeling when you give your puppy some healthy dog treats, almost all kinds of experiences you get from taking care of your pet could help your emotional wellness.

Compared to non-pet owners, researchers found pet owners to have higher self-esteem, be more extroverted and less lonely, be less preoccupied and be less fearful of everyday life challenges. Pets also appeared to help owners feel better after an incident when they reported feeling rejected.

A separate study examined the effects of pet therapy on mood and perceived quality of life in elderly patients with dementia, depression or psychosis. Patients who were administered pet therapy over a six-week period reported a decrease in depressive symptoms, improved perception of quality of life and better cognitive functioning.

Having a Pet Promotes Social Interaction

Social relationships — both quantity and quality — affect mental health, health behavior, physical health and mortality risk. Of course, a healthy amount of social relationships can translate to better overall health. The problem is that oftentimes, people have a difficult time creating and maintaining relationships. Fortunately, pets serve as a great facilitator for making new connections and building social support, both of which are vital to your health.

Studies show that pet owners were more likely than non-pet owners to meet neighbors they had never met before. This supports previous research that suggests pets serve as ‘ice-breakers.’ Dog owners are more likely to form new friendships, particularly while walking their dogs, but the study suggests other pets, such as cats, rabbits and snakes can foster connections as well.

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Dogs have also proven to be particularly helpful in aiding autistic children with forming bonds with their peers. Studies have found that owning a dog helps bridge the gap for children with autism who may find it difficult to communicate with others. Serving as a social buffer, dogs give children the opportunity to communicate more clearly and confidently. While dogs are the subjects of the study, researchers suggest other pets, such as rabbits or cats, may be better suited for some children depending on the child’s preference and condition. It would also be a good idea to invest in a good pet insurance in order to make sure your pet stays healthy. There are many new companies, like Bivvy insurance, that offer great services for an affordable price!

Having a Pet Early On Can Fight Allergies

Pets can serve as a barrier against allergies, if caught early on. Researchers have found that growing up with pets strengthens the immune system and helps children build immunity against pet allergens and bacteria. Then again, when allergic reactions have already been medically established in relation to animal dander, having a pet as an adult is totally not advisable.

According to a 2011 study published in Clinical & Experimental Allergy, children who grew up with a cat or dog in the home were are less likely to be allergic to them later in life, but only if the pet was present when they were infants. Those who grew up with cats were half as likely to develop allergies toward them as teenagers compared to those who grew up in cat-free homes. Pet exposure after a child’s first year did not show an effect, suggesting that early exposure may be a key to reducing allergy risk.

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Bill Gates on The Future of Human Development and Technology (His Latest reddit AMA)

In his fourth AMA on reddit this month, Bill Gates answered questions on human development and the future of technology. If you missed it, here is a summary of his response to some of the most important questions redditors asked him. They are mostly questions on his life and work, thoughts about human progress and his predictions on the future of technology.

What do you see human society accomplishing in the next 20 years? What are you most excited for?

I will mention three things.

First is an energy innovation to lower the cost and get rid of green house gases. This isn’t guaranteed so we need a lot of public and private risk taking.

EDIT: I talked about this recently in my annual letter: https://www.gatesnotes.com/2016-Annual-Letter

Second is progress on disease particularly infectious disease. Polio, Malaria, HIV, TB, etc.. are all diseases we should be able to either eliminate of bring down close to zero. There is amazing science that makes us optimistic this will happen.

Third are tools to help make education better – to help teachers learn how to teach better and to help students learn and understand why they should learn and reinforce their confidence.

I know you love to read, carry a lot of books around and learned how to speed-read, is there some technique you use to make this easier? More generally, how do you “attack” a book you’re interested in

It is worth learning how to read a bit faster. I am not sure what the best course for that is nowadays. I had a friend who took Evelyn Wood and told me what they said.

I have a rule that I always finish a book once I start it. This might now work for everyone. I only read 2 books at a time – in fact usually just one unless one of them is so complex I need to mix things up. I read a lot at night and my biggest problem is that I stay up to late and regret it the next day when I haven’t had as much sleep as I would like.

What’s a fantasy technological advancement you wish existed?

I recently saw a company working on “robotic” surgery where the ability to work at small scales was stunning. The idea that this will make surgeries higher quality, faster and less expensive is pretty exciting. It will probably take a decade before this gets mainstream – to date it has mostly been used for prostate surgery.

In the Foundation work there are a lot of tools we are working on we don’t have yet. For example an implant to protect a woman from getting HIV because it releases a protective drug.

How do you think the school system will or should change in the decades to come?

I agree that our schools have not improved as much as we want them to. There are a lot of great teachers but we don’t do enough to figure out what they do so well and make sure others benefit from that. Most teachers get very little feedback about what they do well and what they need to improve including tools that let them see what the exemplars are doing.

Technology is starting to improve education. Unfortunately so far it is mostly the motivated students who have benefited from it. I think we will get tools like personalized learning to all students in the next decade.

A lot of the issue is helping kids stay engaged. If they don’t feel the material is relevant or they don’t have a sense of their own ability they can check out too easily. The technology has not done enough to help with this yet.

What do you think will be the next biggest advancement in technology in the next 20 years?

I think robots that have vision and manipulation as good as humans is a huge milestone that will happen in the next decade and is being underestimated.

I think medical advances will also be amazing and unbelievable. Like the robots some of the capabilities like gene editing will bring challenges with them.

What’s your take on the recent FBI/Apple situation?

I think there needs to be a discussion about when the government should be able to gather information. What if we had never had wiretapping? Also the government needs to talk openly about safeguards.

Right now a lot of people don’t think the government has the right checks to make sure information is only used in criminal situations. So this case will be viewed as the start of a discussion.

I think very few people take the extreme view that the government should be blind to financial and communication data but very few people think giving the government carte blanche without safeguards makes sense.

A lot of countries like the UK and France are also going through this debate. For tech companies there needs to be some consistency including how governments work with each other. The sooner we modernize the laws the better.

I was curious about your thoughts on VR.

VR is the extreme case of AR when nothing from the real world gets mixed in. It can be tricky if you are walking around that you might run into things.

Mixed systems which seems like VR but when you might hit something it shows you that seem better than pure VR. So I don’t think these two things will stay as separate as they are now.

Hi Bill! You began Microsoft with the easy goal of putting a computer in every home. If you were to start all over today, what would your goal be instead?

I think it looks easier in retrospect than it did at the time. People thought we were a bit crazy – even leaders in the industry like Ken Olsen said they didn’t need a computer at home. Being young allowed us to think about computers in a different way.

Today the challenge is to make computers more intelligent. Software still doesn’t understand what thing I should pay attention to next – in fact the proliferation of various tools like texting and email and notifications mean the user has a lot of complexity to deal with. Eventually the software will understand what you should pay attention to by knowing the context and learning about your preferences.

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