Can Your Pets Save Your Life?

walking_dog1If you are a pet owner, you understand the responsibility, time commitment and love it takes to care for our furry friends.  Did you know that the love you give your pets may be coming back to you in the form of better health? A new study from the American Heart Association has been released that links pet ownership and the reduced risk of heart disease. A group of cardiologists assembled by the American Heart Association have released a statement saying that owning a pet, particularly a dog, is “probably associated” with a reduced risk of heart disease. Nebraska Heart’s Dr. Denes Korpas, an international cardiologist agrees with the new study. “Ownership is linked to exercise and typically people with pets are forced to exercise.”

This reduced risk stems from the fact that dog owners are 57 percent more likely than non dog owners to attain the recommended level of physical activity. Since people with pets are more likely to get daily activity, this leads to lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and a reduced risk of hypertension. J Hoffman, public relations director at NHI, firmly believes that his pet keeps his home life active. “A dog brings more energy into a household and promotes a positive outlook. Hopefully a dog will motivate you to get up and take a walk with it.”

Dr. Korpas' daughter, Lily with their family dog.
Dr. Korpas’ daughter, Lily with their family dog.

Pet ownership has also been linked to reduced stress and increased productivity at work and at home. Dr. Korpas agrees with the link between pet ownership and reduced stress, as well as blood pressure. “Even if you just pet a dog or cat, you still lower your blood pressure and experience stress reduction. People with pets also generally have a happier outlook on life, so they tend to exercise,” says Dr. Korpas. “For my family, our dog plays a huge role in reducing daily stress.”

Hoffman also finds that his dogs are relaxing and they  keep him feeling positive. “In general, I think pets bring a positive energy in households. My dogs help me stop and smell the roses. They help me see the glass as half full and not half empty.”

Dog owners in particular benefit since according to the study “dog owners engaged in significantly more moderate –to vigorous-intensity physical activity than dog nonowners and pet nonowners.” While pet owners in general lead a healthier lifestyle, dog owners end up participating in more physical activities than cat owners. “We like to take walks as much as we can and we also play in our yard,” says Dr. Korpas. “Sometimes we go to the park and take the dog to get exercise as well. Just remember that to experience improvements in your life, you need to actually exercise with your dog.”

Both Dr. Korpas and Hoffman agree that having a pet helps them keep socially active as well. “Walking a dog helps people interact with more people” says Hoffman.  “Maybe you find a coworker that has a dog too and you bond over that. Pets help us with social interaction amongst each other. My wife and I take our dogs out to fundraising events that the humane society has and this also helps us interact with different people.”

This study does not conclusively state that pet ownership alone will reduce your risk of heart disease but the study does suggest that people with pets generally maintain a more active and healthier lifestyle than those without pets. “I think that the link is strong, through exercise. It has been shown to be as beneficial as medicine through exercise with your dog.”  It is not recommended that people should adopt a pet simply to reduce their risk of heart disease and continue to smoke, eat unhealthy food, and lead a sedentary lifestyle. Healthy eating and daily exercise are still important to heart health. According to Dr. webhosting data . Korpas, a pet may improve your heart health in general but it’s still important to: recognize risk factors; take charge to reduce your risk; and see your physician annually.

Story by Nebraska Heart marketing intern, Kristen Obermueller

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