As a child, going to the zoo was a memorable occasion — an opportunity to do something fresh and exciting, and engage with sights, sounds, and creatures you had never encountered before. But as adults, we tend to lose some of the curiosity that made this excursion feel thrilling as a kid, and we might not consider the zoo as a viable place to spend our free time. We should think again, though: A host of research shows that spending time with or near animals comes with some remarkable benefits for our physical and mental health. Here, a few reasons why your next weekend activity should be a trip to the zoo.

You’ll feel happier and more energized

As a child, you may have been wide-eyed and excited walking into a petting zoo or dipping your hand into a stingray touch tank, and research shows there are benefits to getting your hands wet once again. A 2016 study published in Zoo Biology found that participating in a stingray and shark tank experience made participants feel happier, more energized, and less tense. 

Your blood pressure could go down

It’s no secret that getting your steps in every day is great for your physical health, but what you may not realize is just how beneficial a walk through the zoo can be for your blood pressure and cortisol levels in particular. A 2020 study published in PLOS ONE details the positive effects of a walk-thru of the Saint Louis Zoo’s River Edge exhibit. The exhibit, which is just under a mile long, is lined with greenery and is home to a diversity of animals you won’t see every day, from hippos and cheetahs to African painted dogs and dwarf mongoose. After taking a trip through the winding trail exhibit, visitors experienced a significant drop in blood pressure, cortisol levels, and also felt less tense and more energized. 

You’ll feel less anxious 

If you’ve been feeling especially overwhelmed lately, spending time outside could do you some good. (Researchers have coined the term “nature therapy” for a reason!) A study from Cornell explains that just 10 minutes outdoors — yes, you heard that right — can serve as a preventative measure against stress, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. Zoos combine so many elements of the natural world — flourishing plant life, fresh air, exotic animals — that a trip to your local facility will be just the nature therapy you need.


  • Jessica Hicks

    Managing Editor at Thrive

    Jessica Hicks is a managing editor at Thrive. She graduated from Lehigh University with a degree in journalism, sociology, and anthropology, and is passionate about using storytelling to ignite positive change in the lives of others.