There are so many benefits to sharing your life with a pet—at any age. And for older adults, the companionship and unconditional love we get from animals can be an essential part of the transition into retirement that sometimes comes with more isolation and a waning sense of purpose.

Pets, of course, require a great deal of commitment and care, and making a good match is essential for any prospective adopter. But once you’ve made the careful decision to bring an animal into your life, the rewards can be life changing.

And even if an older adult isn’t able to care for their own pet, bringing animals and seniors together, even for short visits, can make a world of difference a senior’s mental and even physical health.

Here are some of the ways pets improve the lives of seniors:

Pets make us happy

As any animal lover knows, the bond between people and their pets is powerful. Pets are non-judgmental listeners, loyal companions, and they provide purpose and strength especially for seniors in a new home, grieving a loss of a loved one, or struggling with a transition. And seniors who adopt from shelters can feel especially good knowing they’re caring for an animal that needed a loving home.

Pets manage stress

Pets can act as the best therapists. Animals can instantly turn our bad moods around with a purr or tail wag. And studies have proven that the simple act of petting an animal can lower our blood pressure. Research also found a link between lower rates of depression and pet companionship.

Pets encourage exercise

When you care for a pet, it’s much easier to have an excuse to get up off the couch and get active. Dog walking is a wonderful activity to stay healthy and engage with the community, giving seniors the social support that’s so critical as we age. Even sitting down and playing with a cat or other animal encourages movement.

Pets provide companionship

Many seniors fear the loneliness and isolation of aging. Pets can fulfill our need for physical touch and give us the companionship that’s so essential to our health and happiness. Animals can be supportive friends who keep secrets, don’t mind silences, accept us for who we are—and ask for only love in return.