A recent survey found that a whopping 68% of US households — about 85-million families — own a pet, which might explain why your Instagram feed is packed with so many precious pups and kittens. Iryna Kazlova / Getty Images While we're all busy tending to their health (OK, and posting glam shots of them for all of our followers to fawn over), they're actually having a huge impact on ours. Here's what science says your pet does for your mind and body: 1. They help you feel less lonely. Ploychan / Getty Images It probably doesn't come as a surprise that having a pet around eases feelings of loneliness, but what might come as a shock is just how detrimental loneliness can be to your health. Studies show that loneliness increases stress hormones and inflammation, which can put you at risk for conditions like heart disease, arthritis, type 2 diabetes, dementia, and depression. What's more, recent findings indicate that loneliness may be a preclinical sign for Alzheimer’s disease. So, the companionship and emotional support that a furry friend provides can have a pretty powerful effect on you. 2. They melt your stress away with their fuzziness. Farknot_architect / Getty Images There is A LOT happening in your brain when you give your pet a nice scratch behind the ears, y'all. One study showed a significant decrease in stress-related hormones, like cortisol, after participants pet a friendly and familiar dog — an automatic response that didn't require any conscious effort on the participants' part. Not only that, those psychological changes happened even faster (after only five to 24 minutes of interacting with a dog!) than the result of taking most stress-relieving drugs. Oh, and research has also found that when a person stares into the eyes of their pet, oxytocin — a hormone referred to as the "cuddle chemical" or "love hormone" that makes you feel happy and trusting — is released in their body. 3. They keep your heart pumping strong. David-prado / Getty Images Not to be cheesy (JK, this is a post about pets, what did you expect?), but your pets do more than fill your heart with love. According to the CDC, they keep it healthy too: Pets can help lower your blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. With all of those effects combined, you're much less likely to experience a cardiovascular incident like a heart attack or stroke. Even so, for people who do suffer a heart attack, their survival rates are much higher if they have a fuzzy friend at home to help them through their recovery. 4. They add meaning and purpose to your life. Milanexpo / Getty Images Simply put: Pets give you a reason to get out of bed in the morning. They rely on you for just about everything — food, exercise, vet appointments — and keep you running on a schedule that adds meaning and structure to your life. This is particularly helpful for those with mental health issues like depression and anxiety, both of which can inhibit feelings of motivation, self-worth, and vitality. Research has found that pets can effectively assist in the management of symptoms related to long-term mental health problems, and provide a sense of security and routine throughout a person's life. 5. They get you movin' outdoors. Kali9 / Getty Images The CDC recommends that adults get at least two hours and 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise (like brisk walking) per week, which is more than achievable for most dog owners out there. Being responsible for walking and playing with your dog every day ensures you stay active and hit that weekly goal. As it turns out, that level of activity continues into your 70s and 80s as well — studies show that older adults who walked dogs had lower body mass index and fewer doctor visits. 6. They help you make more friends. Ebstock / Getty Images It's not always easy making friends as an adult. How many times have we all said, "It's cloudy today, huh?" in an attempt to make small talk? With a pet, though, you've got yourself an instant icebreaker. Whether you meet another pet owner at work, someone stops to pet your dog, or you bump into another dog owner on your walk, there's automatic conversation for you to share. You open up to people you might've breezed right past on the sidewalk if it weren't for your cuddly companion. In fact, studies show that pet owners are way more likely to get to know people in their neighborhood and perceive it as a friendly place. 7. And their comforting lil' faces literally ease your pain. Monkeybusinessimages / Getty Images Whether you're managing chronic pain, recovering from surgery, or receiving physical therapy, pets are proven pain management assistants. After observing patients receiving animal-assisted therapy during hospital stays and after physical therapy, researchers concluded that patients perceived lower pain levels and greater satisfaction with their recovery. Further studies found that therapy dog visits during outpatient treatment for chronic pain patients led to a substantial reduction in pain and emotional distress. TBH, what can't pets do? Get more from Goodful on Instagram and YouTube!