If you have a pet, particularly a dog, chances are you are reaping more benefits than you know from the relationship. Most people get pets for companionship, but often end up getting much more out of it than just a friend. According to the American Heart Association, pets can help reduce the risk of heart disease in their owners.
Fewer Risk Factors in Pet Owners
Recent studies have discovered a connection between owning a pet and a reduced risk of heart disease. Not only are pet owners less likely to have heart disease risk factors like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity, but they also have higher survival rates than non pet owners. There are a number of factors that may influence this reduced risk and scientists aren’t sure whether or not owning a dog directly reduces the risk of disease or if there are other reasons for the drop.
“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,” said Glenn N. Levine, M.D.
Levine is a professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, and chair of the committee that wrote the statement in Circulation after reviewing studies that looked at the different influences of pets. Their review found an association between pet ownership and a decreased cardiovascular risk. Dog owners were especially likely to display this decreased risk.
One study the committee reviewed found that owners participated in more walking and physical activity than non-dog owners. The dog owners were also 54 percent more likely to get the recommended level of physical activity.
The study looked at 5,200 adults. It also revealed that a significant proportion of dog owners don’t walk their dogs, which means neither they nor their dog were getting the amount of daily exercise they need. Not surprisingly, cat owners didn’t have the same increased physical activity levels that dog owners did.
Regardless of the possible health benefits, the statement author discourages people from adopting a dog solely to reduce the risk of disease. “The primary purpose of pet adoption or rescue should be to provide the pet a loving home and to derive enjoyment from the pet,” Levine wrote.
Don’t Adopt Just for Your Health
Adopting a pet comes with certain responsibilities and among those like feeding, sheltering, and providing veterinary care is ensuring your pet gets the proper amount of exercise to help expend any extra energy he or she might have. With a cat, that might mean playing with the laser pointer or dangling a mouse from a string, but with a dog, there is typically much more involved.
Most dogs, especially bigger dogs and working dogs with high energy levels, need at least one walk a day. Even small dogs should get some type of exercise every day, even if it’s just a short walk around the block. Engaging in this exercise helps the pet stay in good health and helps the owner add in exercise to their routine, which can stave off depression, obesity, heart disease, and other medical problems and help keep you healthier for longer.
Read more about the main risk factors for heart disease and ways to prevent them here.