We all know how great our pet dogs and cats make us feel. They become full-fledged members of our families. But a number of studies suggest that our furry friends also help our hearts in many ways.
For starters, they help get us off the couch. If you have a dog, you probably walk it. It turns out that research shows that dog owners are more likely to get the recommended levels of physical activity.
Other data showed that people increased their walking between 22 minutes and 31 minutes a week after adopting a dog. That’s heart healthy all by itself.
And, according to other research, people who walk their dogs are less likely to be obese. Those extra pounds increase the risk for heart attacks and strokes.
Pets also help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol—big risk factors for heart problems. In a study of 240 married couples, those with a cat or dog had lower heart rate and blood pressure levels than those who didn’t have pets. In the same study, people with pets had smaller increases in heart rate and blood pressure during times of stress. These measures returned to normal faster after the stress stopped.
This probably happens because animals have a calming effect on us, which helps us handle stress better. Just petting your dog can lower your blood pressure, research shows.
Another study found that among 5741 people attending a screening clinic, men with pets had lower systolic blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. High triglycerides also increase heart attack risk. Women in the study aged over 40 years who had pets also had lower systolic blood pressure and triglyceride levels.
Lowering heart disease risk factors is a pretty amazing super power. But did you know that pets can actually decrease the risk of dying from a heart attack?
That’s what researchers from the University of Minnesota found when they started following 4500 men and women who were free of heart problems at the start of a 20-year study. It showed that people who had never owned cats were 40% more likely to die of a heart attack than those who had had cats at some time in their lives.
Swedish researchers found a similar story for people with dogs. During the 12-year study period, their study showed that dog owners had an 11% lower risk of death from any cause and a 15% lower risk of death from heart disease. The risk of death was even lower for people who lived alone but had pets.
Not everyone is able or wants to have a dog or cat. But other pets also have health benefits. Just watching fish swimming in a tank has been shown to reduce blood pressure and anxiety, research shows.
More research is needed, but the evidence suggests that getting a pet could be a wise lifestyle choice—one that helps your health and especially your heart!