Pet Ownership can Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease

by Nettie Reynolds

According to statistics provided by the Humane Society of the United States, Americans own about 78.2 million dogs and 86.4 million cats. “Over the last decade or so there have been periodic reports on the association between pet ownership and cardiovascular risk,” says Dr. Glenn N. Levine, a cardiologist with the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Administration Medical Center in Houston and lead author of a new scientific statement by the AHA which looked at the influence of pets on heart health.

Owning pets is associated with reducing one’s risk of heart disease, and there are a variety of reasons that may be at work that influence this relationship. It may be that healthier people are more likely to be pet owners or that people with dogs tend to exercise more. Pets also play a role in providing social support to their owners, which is an important factor in helping a person stick with a new habit or adopting a new healthy behavior.

Pets and Physical Activity

Most of the studies focused on dogs and heart disease. According to one study, it was not surprising that “dog owners who walk their dogs are more likely to achieve the recommended level of physical activity than dog owners who do not walk their dogs.” Unfortunately, the study also found that a significant percentage of dog owners do not regularly walk their dogs.

In another study, more than 5,200 Japanese adult dog owners engaged in significantly more walking and physical activity than non-dog owners and were 54 percent more likely to get the recommended level of physical activity.

An article titled Pet Ownership and Cardiovascular Risk that was published on ahajournals.org, shared, “A prospective cohort study of people who adopted either a dog or a cat from an animal shelter found a marked and sustained increase in the number and duration of recreational walks among those who adopted a dog, but no or little change among those who adopted a cat or no pet.”

Pets and Healthy Numbers

Levine, an American Heart Association volunteer, emphasizes that people should not adopt a pet solely to reduce their risk of heart 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,” he notes.
Whether or not you have a pet, physical activity can help you lead a healthier life.

Nettie Reynolds is the Senior Director of Communications/Mid-Markets/Austin for the American Heart Association. For more information please visit Heart.org.