Pet owners are typically focused on keeping their animals as healthy as possible — and this is a discipline that you should certainly observe with your emotional support animal (ESA). That said, though, there are also many ways that the role of caretaker can be reversed. This is especially true with pets that are qualified to support you emotionally.
The thing is the benefits of having an ESA aren’t purely emotional. Many other health factors come into play, too. Here are a few of the biggest ways that emotional support animals can encourage healthy habits in many different areas of your life.
ESAs Help with Physical Health Habits
The most obvious benefit that comes with owning an ESA is the physical activity that it promotes. Having a dog naturally makes you a more active person. It’s not just a nice sentiment, either. It’s a fact.
One study published in BMC Public Health found that dog owners walk an average of 22 minutes more per day. And this wasn’t referring to meandering along at a leisurely stroll, either. Dog owners were shown to have elevated heart rates and to walk at a respectful 3 miles per hour.
Another study published in the New York Times found that dog owners were roughly four times more likely than everyone else to meet the modern physical activity guidelines of at least 150 minutes of exercise per week.
Not only that, but those with dogs also tended to spend slightly more time doing non-pet-related exercise, such as going to the gym, cycling, or jogging on their own. In other words, having a dog naturally boosted their overall exercise efforts.
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ESAs Improve Mental and Emotional Health Habits
The physical benefits of having an ESA very quickly spill into other mental and emotionally healthy habits, as well. One reason for this is Mother Nature itself.
Many pet activities, particularly with a dog, take place outside. This can also open the door to further benefits that come simply from spending time out in mother nature. For instance, spending time outside is scientifically proven to:
- Improve mental health;
- Decrease stress;
- Lower blood pressure;
- Improve the quality of your sleep;
- Help with pain management;
- Enhance your creativity and overall satisfaction with life.
Along with the benefits of being outdoors, spending time with loved ones is another recognized way to help manage stress. They may not be human, but a pet, and especially an ESA, can speak to the heart with nary a word. Anxiety and stress can quickly melt away simply by being around them and benefiting from their presence.
ESAs are also very helpful with deep emotional processing. For instance, when asked, veterinary social worker Rachel Wright, MSW, LSWAIC, explained that therapy animals can play an instrumental role in processing grief, managing emotions, and helping with animal-assisted interventions. In her response, Wright specifically stated that animals are used to help her clients “build communication skills, self-esteem and coping skills for grief and loss.”
ESAs Boost Overall Wellbeing
Finally, ESAs can help you simply slow down and be in the present. This is a healthy habit that is constantly encouraged through things like meditation, prayer, and trying to “live in the moment.” While being present is an ongoing struggle for many humans, though, animals have no problem whatsoever following the principle of letting tomorrow worry about itself.
Tapping Into the Endless Health Benefits of an ESA
So, the next time you’re considering the costs and maintenance associated with your animal, remember that they aren’t just an expense. They’re also saving you a ton of money by helping you stay healthy and strong through a variety of different health and wellness activities.
From increased exercise to spending time outdoors, helping to manage stress, aiding in processing grief, and generally helping you live in the moment, there is no end to the number of benefits that come from an ESA.
The important thing is that you learn to treat your emotional support animal as an ally and a friend rather than a tool in your search for contentment and emotional peace. Instead of using them as a means to an end, embrace them as a four-legged friend that truly wants nothing more than to exist with you right here, right now in the happy, healthy, and peaceful moment at hand.