While all animal lovers know instinctively that living with a pet can lift their spirits, a new scientific statement from the American Heart Association confirms it is literally good for the heart.
Based on many studies, the statement correlates pet ownership with reductions in blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and obesity risk, while potentially also reducing the body’s reaction to stress.
This is because pets “probably provide a calming effect” on their owners, says the statement’s lead author, the cardiologist and Baylor College of Medicine professor Glenn Levine. “This leads to less release of adrenaline-like chemicals and less increase in heart rate and blood pressure.”
These benefits apply to owners of all types of pets, but dogs especially—because “regular aerobic activity, such as walking, is associated with a decreased risk of heart disease,” Levine explains. The statement cites a study in which dog owners were found to be 54 percent more likely than non-dog-owners to perform AHA-recommended levels of daily physical activity.
These benefits do not apply only to healthy pet owners with no heart-disease history: pet owners with past or current cardiovascular problems tend to show longer survival rates than their petless counterparts. Nonetheless, the AHA warns against acquiring pets merely for medical reasons. Even a scientific organization knows that it’s all about the love.