From furry to feathered, the animals you adore as pets and the beauties you spy in nature can tame pain, deepen sleep, and have other unexpected health benefits.
Shake off the blues with a virtual zoo visit.
Feeling a little blah lately? Blame the season’s shorter days, which can disrupt your internal body clock and leave you in a funk. Luckily, the secret to brighter days is a fun one: Japanese scientists say admiring adorable animals — whether you’re watching pups at a local dog park or tuning into a zoo’s live webcam — lights up the reward center of your brain, which helps you feel markedly more gleeful in seconds.
Ease aches by listening to birdsong.
Whether you were tackling fall yard work or enjoying a long hike, sore muscles don’t have to leave you sidelined. Just open your window and listen to the birds tweeting or crickets chirping. Research in Pain Management Nursing found that doing so tamps down pain in minutes and keeps you ache-free for up to two hours. Our bodies are wired to relax in response to nature sounds, slowing the production of the stress hormones that trigger muscle tension. Tip: Free apps like Nature Sounds or Nature Melody offer birdsong playlists that work too!
Sleep soundly by cuddling your pup.
If you find yourself tossing and turning, cozy up to Fido. A study at Canisius College in Buffalo found that women who shared their bed with a pup had significantly fewer sleep disruptions than those who slept sans dog. Having your furry friend close by fosters feelings of calm and wards off sleep-disruptive bad dreams so you can enjoy a deeper rest. Cat person? A separate Australian study revealed that visualizing something soft and fluffy, like a kitten, encourages the release of sleep-inducing brain waves that improve your sleep quality by as much as 61 percent.
Renew your energy with cute cat videos.
Next time you feel yourself falling into a slump, take a break to cue up silly cat videos online. The kitties’ adorable antics give your mind a chance to shift attention away from energy-sapping stressors and refocus your thoughts onto something positive. It works so well that Indiana University scientists say you could cut feelings of tiredness by up to 40 percent.
Quiet stress by watching little critters.
For a quick way to decompress, pop outside (or peer out your window!) and watch squirrels racing up trees or bunnies hip-hopping through your yard. German researchers say soaking up the beauty of nature for five minutes makes you feel 65 percent more relaxed. Watching animals in their natural habitats activates your parasympathetic nervous system, or your “rest and digest” system, which lowers your heart rate and brings on calm.
Lower your blood pressure by gazing at goldfish.
Watching goldfish swim around in a bowl or visiting an aquarium markedly decreases your blood pressure and lowers your heart rate in 10 minutes, a study in Environment and Behavior revealed. Credit goes to the calming combination of water and colorful creatures’ movements, which shifts your mind to the present and stops blood-pressure spikes in their tracks. Researchers confirm watching a free video of sea life on the web works too!
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.