The American Heart Association (AHA) recently issued a statement that owning a pet may help lower blood pressure, obesity and cholesterol, as well as reduce the risk of heart disease and increase survival among patients.
It isn’t clear whether owning a dog actually reduces the risk of heart disease or if it’s just that healthier people are those with pets, AHA said. What is clear is that dogs help their owners adopt a healthier lifestyle ― a study of over 5,200 adults showed that “dog owners engaged in more walking and physical activity than non-dog owners, and were 54 percent more likely to get the recommended level of physical activity.”
Chair of the AHA committee that issued the statement, Glenn N. Levine, M.D., professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, says that “there are plausible psychological, sociological and physiological reasons to believe that pet ownership might actually have a causal role in decreasing cardiovascular risk.”
An article by online health information website WebMD, also says that living with pets can lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety, ward off depression, and boost immunity. The article refers in particular to a study of stockbrokers with hypertension who registered lower blood pressure in stressful situations after adopting a cat or dog compared to their pet-less peers. Moreover, “playing with a dog can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine ― nerve transmitters that are known to have pleasurable and calming properties.”
AHA adds the love and loyalty shown by pets into the equation of why owners react better to stress and have less anxiety, depression and loneliness than those without pets. They generally feel better and more confident.
Damon Marsh, a physician’s assistant at Ogden Regional Medical Center, said a study that spanned 20 years showed that people with a cat were 60 percent less likely to die of heart disease than those without. A second study, he says, showed lower blood pressure among 240 married couples with pets, and a third indicated that besides other health benefits for the young including babies, children with hypertension registered lower blood pressure after petting their dog. It also teaches kids about caring for another, which he says is one of the most important things we can learn in our lives.
According to the Humane Society of the United States, there are 86.4 million cats and 78.2 million dogs in homes around the U.S. The World Society of the Protection of Animals estimates that 6.7 million dogs and 9.8 million cats are kept as pets in the UK and Brazil leads the pack with 30 million dogs and 14.7 million cats.
As Levine says, however, you won’t decrease your cardiovascular risk if you get a dog and still sit on the couch, smoke, eat what you like and don’t control your blood pressure!