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Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Pets a Boon for the Human Heart
That four-legged friend of
yours may be more than a companion -- he also may be boosting your heart
health, experts say.
An official statement released Thursday by the American Heart
Association says there is evidence that having a pet, particularly a dog, may
lower your risk of heart disease.
Cardiology specialists weren‘t all that surprised.
"Pets really might be man‘s best friend," said Barbara
George, director of the Center for Cardiovascular Lifestyle Medicine at
Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y.
"Studies have shown people who own pets, particularly dogs,
have lower blood pressure, increased mood-related brain chemicals, better
cholesterol numbers, lower weight and improved stress response," George
Members of the American Heart Association (AHA) committee that
wrote the statement reviewed data from an array of relevant studies. They found
that pet ownership appears to be associated with a reduction in heart disease
risk factors such as high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol levels and
obesity -- and improved survival among people with heart disease.
Dog ownership in particular may help reduce heart risk, the
statement said. People with dogs may get more exercise because they take their
dogs for walks. A study of more than 5,200 adults found that dog owners did
more walking and physical activity than those who didn‘t own dogs, and that dog
owners were 54 percent more likely to get the recommended level of physical
"Walking your dog is a healthy chore; it is a great way to
exercise without thinking about it," said Dr. Nieca Goldberg, clinical
associate professor in the department of medicine at the Tisch Center for
Women‘s Health at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. "Pet owners
increase their physical activity simply by walking their dogs."
Pets can also have a positive effect on the body‘s reactions to
stress, according to the AHA. George agreed, saying pets can be "a tool
for weight loss, socialization, calming our nerves and easing anxiety and
The AHA stressed, however, that the studies they reviewed cannot
prove that owning a pet directly reduces heart disease risk.
"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," statement committee chairman Dr. Glenn Levine, a
professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, said in an AHA news
"There probably is an association between pet ownership and
decreased cardiovascular risk," he 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
In the meantime, George said, humans can benefit from the mental
and physical rewards of furry companions. "Pets tug at our
heartstrings," she said. "But they also improve our health -- both
mental and physical -- helping us to live longer and happier lives."
The AHA statement was published online May 9 in the journalCirculation.