5 ways pets support mental health while social distancing

The American Heart Association, a global force for longer, healthier lives, and its Healthy Bond for Life™ initiative, will bring back Best Friend Fridays™ for the second year.

Throughout the month of June, Best Friend Fridays encourages people to incorporate pets into their workday, wherever and however that maybe, as pet owners shift their daily routines during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With social interactions limited, the bond between humans and their pets, and the emotional and mental well-being benefits that come, can be a powerful partner in keeping you healthy.

The American Heart Association’s Healthy Bond for Life shares five reasons pets may help our mental health especially during the pandemic:

Pets can reduce work-related stress. Approximately 2 out of 3 employees say work stresses them out, while 40% say their job gets in the way of their health.

Studies show that pets in the workplace may help reduce stress, increase productivity and improve employee satisfaction.

They can help increase productivity, wherever that is.

When a dog joins a collaborative setting – even if that’s a virtual meeting – group members rank their teammates higher in terms of trust, team cohesion and camaraderie.

Companion animals help manage anxiety. Now more than ever many people are feeling anxious or struggling with mental health, and pets provide companionship and unconditional love.

The American Heart Association’s Scientific Statement on Pet Ownership and Cardiovascular Risk highlighted how pet can do a lot to combat stress and improve mental health and well-being.

Pets keep pet parents active. Dog owners are more likely to fit in the recommended physical activity than those who don’t have a dog.

While social distancing is keeping people in their homes all day, pets give a reason to get outside, get some fresh air and get active. Studies also show that physical activity has many benefits for mental health.

They provide a sense of togetherness. The bond with a pet helps the owner to not feel alone.

When owners see, touch, hear or talk to their companion animals, it brings a sense of goodwill, joy, nurturing and happiness. At the same time, stress hormones are suppressed6.

Mental health challenges may now be heightened because of the stress and uncertainty stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Studies show that stress may affect behaviors and factors that increase heart disease risk, like high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, smoking, physical inactivity and overeating.

According to a Harris Poll online survey on Employees’ Perceptions and Attitudes on Mental Health in the Workplace, commissioned by the American Heart Association, roughly 3 out of 4 employees (76%) indicate they have struggled with at least one issue that affected their mental health.

“Cardiovascular disease remains the No. 1 killer of all Americans. To turn the tide, we must tackle the problem in innovative ways,” said Glenn Levine, MD, volunteer medical expert for the American Heart Association’s Healthy Bond for Life and lead author of the Association’s Scientific Statement on Pet Ownership and Cardiovascular Risk.

“The Best Friend Fridays concept is simple — human and pet interaction can lead to better physical and mental health.

Studies have shown that pet ownership is associated with increased exercise and fitness levels, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, decreased stress and greater overall happiness and well-being.”

Whether it is in the form of a healthy distraction, like adding them as a guest to the next virtual meeting or taking a walk break, pets provide the means to keep people healthy, both mentally and physically, and active while in the “office” and after the workday has ended.

“If you’re feeling down or struggling with your mental health, your pet companion can help,” said Levine.

“Spend some time with them playing or just petting them. You may find that you feel better, and your pet will love the bonding time, too.”

Overall, having a pet may help you get more fit, lower your stress, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar; boost your overall happiness and well-being, and even help you live longer.

Healthy Bond for Life emphasizes that the primary reason to adopt a pet is to give the pet a loving home but adopting a pet may bring with it many health benefits, both psychological and physical.