Now here is a heart-health measure that may be easy to adopt, at least for animal lovers: Owning a pet may reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease. A recent Scientific Statement published by the American Heart Association (AHA) took a critical look at the data regarding the influence of pet ownership on cardiovascular disease risk. The conclusion: Owning a pet, particularly a dog or a cat, is associated with decreased cardiovascular risk factors.

This is likely unsurprising news for people who already count four-legged friends as family. The value of companion animals for people with vision, hearing and other physical impairments and the emotional and cognitive therapeutic effects of horseback riding have long been known. Pet ownership, which can decrease loneliness and increase opportunities for socialization, exercise and outdoor activities, may translate into measurable perks.

Among them:

  • Lower blood pressure. Pet owners tend to have lower blood pressure overall, a reduced risk for hypertension and lower resting heart rate.
  • Increased physical activity. Dog walkers were less likely to be overweight or obese and performed more minutes of physical activity. Dogs provide motivation and social support for a daily constitutional.
  • Better lipid profile. Dog owners tend to have lower total cholesterol and lower triglyceride levels and were less likely to smoke.
  • Reduced stress. Pet ownership was associated with better tolerance, lower reactivity and faster recovery from stressful situations, a benefit also seen in studies of owners with pets of a different feather, including birds, fish, goats, chimps and snakes.
  • Improved survival in people with cardiovascular disease. Pet owners, particularly people with dogs, enjoyed longer survival and decreased mortality than those without pets.

So far, these survival benefits are found in people known to have cardiovascular disease. Not enough evidence exists for people not known to have cardiovascular disease.

The cardiovascular benefits of pet ownership for people with established cardiovascular disease seems mostly due to the benefits of exercise obtained from walking a dog. Still, the AHA cautions against pet adoption, rescue or purchase of a pet strictly for heart health.

Source: Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 10 Jul 2013

Last Modified: 18 Sep 2015