Pet fish don’t just look good–they can make you feel good, too.

By Clifton James Sawit

When it comes to owning pets, a lot has been written and said about the benefits of owning a pet dog or a pet cat. But did you know that keeping and raising pet fish (the usual kind, that is, not those for advanced hobbyists) also has many health benefits?

For example, the simple act of watching fish swim around in an aquarium can ease stress and lower blood pressure!For starters, (most) pet fish are easier to keep and feed, and can be a good fit for people who don’t have the space or the time for higher-maintenance pets. City dwellers in particular can benefit from the stress reducing effects that pet fish can give, since fish don’t need more space than a fish tank and don’t make a mess around the house. They’re also quiet pets, so you won’t be receiving an angry late-night visit from your neighbors complaining about your noisy goldfish any time soon.

What’s the big deal about stress, anyway?

Our hectic modern life has placed an increased demand on our minds and bodies. While a certain amount of stress in our daily lives is to be expected, continued stress can have many negative effects on our body and mind. Stress can leave us lethargic, irritable, depressed, and unable to sleep or eat. If left unchecked, stress can lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease!Wouldn’t you want to own a pet that helps prevent all that?

Pay attention, kids!

Anyone who has ever watched kids stand, mouths agape, in front of a fish tank knows how much kids are fascinated by pet fish. But not only is watching fish fun for kids, it also has a calming effect. Research has shown that even children with hyperactive disorders slow down significantly while in the presence of a fish-filled aquarium.Just don’t let them tap on the glass, which stresses out the fish and can send them into shock. Tapping on the glass also teaches the fish to hide whenever people are in the room. Teach your children to enjoy the company of fish without disturbing them.

An aquarium in a child’s bedroom is also a great idea. Watching fish helps them relax as they lie down to sleep, and the soft aquarium lights will comfort kids who are afraid of the dark.

Fish also make great first pets for kids. Learning how to feed and care for pet fish is a gentle way to teach children responsibility.

The doctor is ‘fin’

Ever wonder why the waiting rooms of doctors and dentists have aquariums in them? Well, there’s a very good reason for this! Aside from reducing the usual anxiety patients feel in waiting rooms, aquariums can even reduce the pain you feel during and after medical procedures.Studies have shown that aquariums work better than hypnosis when it comes to pain management for medical or dental procedures, and patients need less pain medication if there is a fish tank in their dentist’s office.

Studies have also shown that patients are less likely to accept medical advice from doctors if they have a negative waiting room experience. Maybe the real reason there are so many aquariums in waiting rooms is to make patients more open to their doctor’s advice!

Not just seaweed and bubbles

Don’t think that simply watching an empty aquarium will work, either, even if it is filled with white sand, swaying plants, and colorful pieces of coral. A University of Pennsylvania study showed that when people were divided into two groups. One group viewed fish in an aquarium, and the other group watched empty fish tanks complete with bubbles, plants, and sand. The blood pressure of the group with the inhabited fish tanks dropped much lower than those with the fishless tanks, and their blood pressure stayed lower for much longer. For those subjects with high blood pressure, the drop was even more dramatic. Fish tanks truly help people relax, and physiological evidence supports this.

Gray hairs and goldfish

Even the elderly can benefit greatly from pet fish. A pet fish can reduce depression and loneliness in their owners. Even a pet fish can provide the much-needed companionship that older pet owners need. Fish and other pet animals constantly live in the moment, and for elderly people who are anxious about tomorrow, pets are a welcome anchor that can pull them back into the present.

Pet fish can even help elderly patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Purdue University did a study on Alzheimer’s patients and found that watching fish calms them and increased their appetites. They required fewer supplements to balance their nutrition, and the act viewing fish even reduced incidences of physical aggression. The colors and movements of the fish provide the patients with much needed mental and sensory stimulation.

Fish be with you

It’s easy to see why aquarium fish are ideal pets in this fast-paced world. Easy to maintain, affordable (especially in comparison to the costs of owning a dog or cat), and scientifically proven to reduce stress and improve relaxation, a pet fish just might be the perfect addition to your home!

This appeared as “A Fishy Good Thing” in Agriculture Monthly’s September 2015 issue.