Your dog may be helping your heart

Your dog may be helping your heart

That warm fuzzy feeling you get when snuggling with your pet may actually be helping your heart, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

The AHA says that having a pet, especially a dog, may lower your risk of heart disease.

“Pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, is probably associated with a decreased risk of heart disease” said Glenn N. Levine, M.D., chair of the committee that wrote the statement.

The conclusion was made after researchers evaluated previous studies done about the influence of pets on health. Statement authors did note that the studies do not necessarily prove that having a pet has a direct effect on reducing heart disease. “It may be simply that healthier people are the ones that have pets, not that having a pet actually leads to or causes reduction in cardiovascular risk,” Levine said.

Previous studies have shown that dog owners may be getting more physical activity from walking their dogs. One study of more than 5,000 adults showed that dog owners were more physically active than non-dog owners and more likely to get the recommended level of exercise.

Researchers have also found that having a pet may be associated with lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and lower rates of obesity.

The AHA said that pets can also help reduce the effects of stress on the body.

“In essence, data suggest that there probably is an association between pet ownership and decreased cardiovascular risk,” Levine said. “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. Further research, including better quality studies, is needed to more definitively answer this question.”

The report is not the first time pets have been linked to improving health. Therapy dogs have long been used in hospitals and nursing homes to bring comfort to and healing to patients.

Dawn Kunz, a nurse at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital, oversees the pet therapy program at the hospital in Downers Grove, Ill. She says pets provide healing in ways that medicine can’t.

“Anytime you can provide a non-medication alternative to try to help somebody’s pain or anxiety, then why not?” she said. “These dogs have a calming effect on our patients and connect with them in ways humans can’t.”

Watch the Good Samaritan’s therapy dogs in action here.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.