You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Sat, May 11, 2013 : 12:12 p.m.

American Heart Association says having a pet may help reduce heart disease

By Lorrie Shaw


Lorrie Shaw | Contributor

The idea that spending time with pets has a positive impact on the mental well-being of humans has been demonstrated in many ways, from therapy dogs visiting troops deployed overseas to therapy pets used in a setting to provide social support to a victims after a traumatic crime — the benefits are measurable and clear.

We know that levels of anti-stress hormones are known to be released when we have close physical contact with an animal. Our blood pressure tends to drop when we are petting and interacting with animals, too.

Previous research has shown that the affection and connectivity that pets promote can reduce stress, anxiety, depression and loneliness in their owners and elevate a sense of self-esteem.

Another valuable aspect of sharing time with animals — enhanced physical health — has long been assumed to be a peripheral effect of having that mental boost.

That idea is now better supported after a panel of heart disease experts reviewed research linking heart health and owning a pet and discovered that owning a pet may correlate with a lower risk of heart disease for those without a history of heart problems. Additionally, the findings indicate that heart disease patients may have a higher survival rate.

What's behind all of this?

The mental boost certainly comes into play, when you consider the lower amounts of stress that are felt by those who own pets.

Increased activity is known to decrease stress levels and lower blood pressure, and doctors have been after everyone to make exercise part of their daily routine.

And the heart disease experts, assembled by the American Heart Association (AHA), determined that those who share life with dogs and cats tend to feel the need to be more physically active. Taking care of pets requires people to be more mindful of the animal's needs, so for dog owners, that may mean more walks — and for both dog and cat owners, more playtime and interaction.

That doesn't mean that simply welcoming a pet into your life will be an elixir in staving off or mitigating heart disease. It can just part of the equation.

Dr. Glenn Levine, a professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine chaired the panel, and had this to offer.

“If someone adopts a pet, but still sits on the couch and smokes and eats whatever they want and doesn’t control their blood pressure, that’s not a prudent strategy to decrease their cardiovascular risk.”

Understanding that a companion animal is reliant on their human to provide outlets for physical and emotional well-being can remind us of the importance in taking care of ourselves as well, bringing that symbiotic relationship full circle.

Read more about what the AHA had to say about heart health and pet ownership by clicking here.

Lorrie Shaw leads the pets section for Connect with her on Google+ and follow her daily adventures as a professional pet sitter or email her directly.