If your social life could use a boost, ask your favorite four-footed friend for help.
Pet ownership benefits owners not only physically, but also socially and psychologically, according to a new study.
Researchers from three institutions conducted the study of about 2,700 men and women: Harvard University’s School of Public Health, the University of Western Australia and the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition, which is a division of Mars, the company that owns Pedigree brand dog food.
The study found that being a pet owner was the third-most common way that survey respondents met new people in their neighborhoods. (The first was by being neighbors, and the second was by using local streets and parks.)
Pet owners were 60 percent more likely than non-pet owners to meet new people in their neighborhoods, and dog owners were “far more” likely to have befriended or gotten social support from someone they met because they owned and — especially — walked a dog.
The Harvard Medical School explains in a blog post:
Dogs can be good ice-breakers, making it easy for humans to start conversations. But other animals can do the same thing.
“Other animals” include cats, rabbits and snakes.
Stronger social relationships in turn improve mortality rates, according to a separate study published in Plos One in 2010.
The analysis of 148 studies indicates that people with strong social networks have a 50 percent greater likelihood of survival.
Dr. Elizabeth Pegg Frates, who teaches physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard and wrote up the pet ownership study findings for Plos One, tells CBS news that the psychological benefits of dog ownership can include reduction of loneliness, stress, anxiety and depression:
When a dog owner looks into a dog’s eyes and pets the dog, the owner will release oxytocin, the love hormone.
While past studies have already established how pet ownership can improve blood pressure levels, Harvard reports that it can also increase physical activity, helping owners lose or maintain weight.