Ask anyone that has a four legged friend and they will tell you that dogs are excellent for the heart, but a recent study by the American Heart Association has found the same thing. Pets have long been thought to have healing powers, especially for those that have had traumatic health issues, but the new evidence suggests that owning a dog may actually help to prevent heart related issues, as well.
Experts feel that the effect of owning a dog is likely two-fold because typically dog owners find that they are more active; they take their dog for walks, play with them and even run with them, which encourages more activity, but many dog owners also feel less stressed, and this could be due to the fact that pets tend to be soothing. Many report that their dogs help them to disconnect from stressors and enjoy life more.
In the study, results showed that dog ownership can lead to a slew of health benefits, including lower cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure and a reduction in stress. The American Heart Association published the findings on Thursday, but they were hesitant to be too excited about the results at first because the study was done entirely on observations. Researchers warn that there is nothing scientific to prove that dog owners don’t just lead more active lives; even without a dog to keep them company.
Dr. Glenn N. Levine, the director of Baylor College of Medicine’s cardiac care unit, in Houston Texas says, “Pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, is probably associated with a decreased risk of heart disease.” Dr. Levine chairs the committee that was responsible for writing the new version of the American Heart Association’s policy statement.
A study done by the American Pet Products Association in 2011-2012 found that there are an estimated 78.2 million dogs that belong to families and about 86.4 million cats that belong to families in the US. An estimated 39 percent of US household have at least one dog, and 33 percent of US households own at least one cat.
For the AHA study, researchers looked over past research in an effort track the benefits that pets have when it comes to their owners’ health. They found studies that reinforced the idea that owning a pet was linked to a higher survival rate in those that have experienced heart related health problems and a lower incidence of heart disease risk factors, as well.
The study showed that pet ownership, and especially owning a dog has been shown to lower cardiovascular health risks, but many suspect that in general, dog owners tend to be more active. Dog owners are more likely to take their pooch for walks, and that alone might be enough to explain the better health. One study followed over 5,000 adults and discovered that dog owners tended to be more active than those who do not have a dog. The study also found that dog owners were 54 percent more likely to reach the level of recommended activity.
The researchers for the American Heart Association were quick to remind people that owning a dog and indulging in risk factors such as unhealthy eating, and leading a sedentary lifestyle, as well as smoking, will not provide health benefits to the owner of the pooch.