Having A Pet May Lower Heart Disease Risk

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They’re man’s best friend, and  they may be one of the heart’s best allies as well.

A panel of heart disease experts convened by the American Heart Association (AHA) reviewed research linking heart health and owning a pet and found that owning a pet is “probably associated” with a lower risk of heart disease for those without a history of heart problems, and with greater survival rates among heart disease patients.

(MORE: How ‘Bring Your Dog To Work Days’ Could Lower Stress)

The panel, chaired by Dr. Glenn Levine, a professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, released a scientific statement in favor of having a dog or cat to lower the risk of heart disease by helping people to be more physically active as well as reduce blood pressure and minimize the effects of stress. Previous studies showed that the companionship and close relationship that owners build with their pets can boost levels of anti-stress hormones that can increase resilience and help people to cope with stressful or traumatic situations. One of the studies found, for example, that those who adopted dogs enjoyed a drop in blood pressure, while another revealed that among 5,200 adults, those who owned dogs were 54% more likely to get recommended levels of exercise and be active than non-dog owners. That trend is supported by other studies that found that people who didn’t own dogs, but walked them frequently, were less likely to be obese.

According to the New York Times, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, however, that overall, pet owners are still just as likely to be overweight as people without pets. Pets aren’t a panacea against heart disease, it’s likely that taking care of them requires their owners to get more exercise, which can reduce stress, weight and blood pressure and benefit the heart. “If someone adopts a pet, but still sits on the couch and smokes and eats whatever they want and doesn’t control their blood pressure,” Levine told the Times, “that’s not a prudent strategy to decrease their cardiovascular risk.”

That’s why the AHA, while encouraged by the data, is not recommending that people get a pet and expect to improve their heart health. But if you already have one, especially a dog, the panel says you may enjoy a lower risk of heart disease compared to people who don’t own pets.

(MORE: Dog Walkers Get More Exercise)

The fact that people with heart disease showed some survival benefit if they had a pet was also intriguing, although more research should clarify whether the added years came from the exercise, the reduced stress, or some combination of both. “What’s less clear is whether the act of adopting or acquiring a pet could lead to a reduction in cardiovascular risk in those with pre-existing disease,” he and the panel members wrote in the statement. “Further research, including better quality studies, is needed to more definitively answer this question.”

You can read the AHA’s scientific statement here.

5 comments
EMRTechnician
EMRTechnician

I do agree with this. They are also the perfect companion in exercise. They also keep you active. What dog would you recommend for someone who is active?

punkakes13
punkakes13

my first pet i had 1 year old it was a cat, we killed it joke

FU
FU

Yeah right - poop everywhere, constant barking, hair, vet rates, food prices, destruction of everything...I call dog**t!! 

handsomepackers
handsomepackers like.author.displayName 1 Like

I am a cardiologist at Harvard, and I've been recommending dog walking for years to my patients. This is especially true when a dog lover loses there dog; there are some patients who grieve for long periods of time. Often during that time, their blood pressures go up, and they need more medicine. I encourage them to adopt a new dog for their health, and I tell that a great way to honor their love of the pet is to rescue a dog. With "Doctor's Orders", they go get a new dog, and then their blood pressure comes down, without adding another medication. And I believe they are happier, too! Not to mention the happiness of the rescued dog--Win, Win, Win.

BorisIII
BorisIII like.author.displayName 1 Like

Having a dog makes you have to go for walks.  You have to feel guilty if you don't walk your dog because you'll spend all your time at home watching your dog slowly go crazy as he tries to beg you to take him for a walk.  And just short walks or when the weather is good won't help very much.