How Pets Boost Your Brain Power

Pets can boost our brain power? Yes, please!

Dr. Tiffany Braley, an associate professor of neurology at the University of Michigan, found evidence suggesting pet ownership could be helpful in the fight against cognitive decline.

Dr. Braley’s study analyzed cognitive data from more than 1,300 adults who participated in the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative study tracking the lives of Americans age 50 and older.

Evidently, when pet parents own fur babies for five years or more, their working verbal memory — such as memorization of word lists — not only greatly improved, but also delayed cognitive decline by 1.2 points over the six-year period of the study compared with those without pets.

And pet ownership of strictly dogs or cats was not required. Pet parents of rabbits, guinea pigs, birds, or other pets also had boosted brains!

Dogs and then cats, however, ranked as providing the greatest cognitive improvement.

Naturally, the social companionship pets provide contributes a great deal to our well-being. People who live alone, without animal companionship, tend to be lonelier and often isolate more than their pet-owning counterparts, which can lead to depression. And many studies on dementia have proven social interaction is key to improving brain health.

Then there’s the fact so many of us humans are challenged by daily stressors negatively impacting cortisol levels and blood pressure.

Our brain health and cognitive decline is absolutely related to this.

Happily, pets can bring an enormous amount of relief from stress just by stroking them, playing with them, walking them, and providing them with daily care. This gives us a sense of purpose — or, at the very least, a sense of duty.

“Cognitive engagement, socialization, physical activity and having a sense of purpose,” Dr. Richard Isaacson, director of the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic in the Center for Brain Health at Florida Atlantic University’s Schmidt College of Medicine said, “can separately, or even more so in combination, address key modifiable risk factors for cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease dementia.”

The happiness we experience with our two-footed and four-footed pals does more than just elevate our mood and offer us unconditional love and affection.

Those of us older than 50 can now thank them for improving our general cognition too.

I am a bit tired of cleaning up those “accidents” in my living room! But that’s a small price to pay for all the benefits I receive daily.

I must remember to thank my boys next time I grab the leash or even sit down for that cozy one-on-one with them.

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