New medical research has revealed a simple way to fight obesity and heart disease, and to improve people’s mental health — give them pets.

The research found that dogs, cats, and other four-legged pets can significantly improve people’s physical and mental health, to the point where interaction with pets can serve as an effective form of therapy.

Fox News reported, “Consider how pets could help the 75 million Americans who suffer from high blood pressure, which increases the likelihood of experiencing a heart attack or stroke. In one study of more than 1,500 people aged 60 and over, dog owners had systolic blood pressure that was 3.34 milligrams of mercury lower than that for non-owners.”

Systolic blood pressure is the pressure present in a person’s blood vessels when their heart beats — the first number in a blood pressure reading. For each milligram of mercury decline in blood pressure, a person’s stroke risk is reduced by 5 percent.

Owners of pets are also more likely to engage in regular exercise. Australian researchers discovered that dog owners were physically active for an hour more each week than those who did not have dogs.

In a survey of people in Grenada, less than 13 percent of pet owners were found to be obese. Conversely, 50 percent of the people sampled who did not own pets were obese.

Research has also found that pets improved people’s mental health. According to Fox News, “In one Israeli study, scientists deliberately elevated participants’ stress levels by telling them that they might have to hold a tarantula. Then, to calm the participants down, researchers gave them either toy rabbits, toy turtles, real rabbits, or real turtles. The toys did nothing to relieve stress. But petting both the hard shell of real turtles and the soft fur of real bunnies calmed participants effectively.”

A review of 17 other studies found that people with mental illnesses, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, experience health benefits from owning pets.

As a result of the body of research, some hospitals are including pets in their care protocols, such as Indiana University Health North Hospital, where dogs wander the hallways and visit with patients. Jon Goble, president of IU Health North, said that prior to patients’ surgeries, “The dog will completely take their mind off what’s happening or about to happen.”

Satesh Bidaisee, a professor of public health and preventative medicine and assistant dean for graduate studies at St. George’s University in Grenada, concluded, “Medical research shows that pets are the perfect antidote to all sorts of illnesses and ailments. It’s time to unleash this knowledge across our health care system.”