Pets, Hearts and Health?

Your family pet can be good for your heart and health. That’s the word from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Pet ownership, the CDC says, can reduce your:

  • Cholesterol levels.
  • Blood pressure.
  • Triglyceride levels.
  • The CDC also highlights the stress-busting perks of pet ownership. Those benefits also include: reduced feelings of loneliness and increased “opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities and opportunities for socialization,” the CDC reports.

    Scientific research indicates that pet owners — especially those with dogs — receive a number of cardiovascular benefits, including reductions in blood pressure, heart rate and stress levels, according to Khurram Nasir, M.D., director of research for the Center for Wellness and Prevention at Baptist Health Medical Group in Miami. 

    “Having a pet allows you to increase your physical activity. Pets also help blunt our response to stress,” Dr. Nasir says. 

    Likewise, the American Heart Association (AHA) also touts the benefits of puppy love and pet therapy.

    “There is a substantial body of data that suggests that pet ownership is associated with a reduction in cardiovascular disease risk factors and increased survival in individuals with established cardiovascular disease,”  the AHA reports.  

    Here’s how: 

    Fitness bonus:  Whether you’re playing catch or walking around the block, dog ownership offers a chance to squeeze extra exercise into the day. One study reported that dog owners walked an average of 300 minutes a week, nearly double the 168 minutes logged by non-owners, according to AHA.

    By providing companionship and protection during a walk, your family dog can boost your motivation to exercise and reduce fears about safety that might otherwise keep you stranded at home.

    That’s a health bonus, because dedication to an exercise program is a key factor when it comes to conquering or avoiding obesity. Being overweight puts you at greater risk for cancer, stroke, heart disease and type 2 diabetes, according to the CDC.

    Pet-friendly living: Research evidence links social isolation and depression to an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, Dr. Nasir says. As a dose of prevention, pets can provide companionship, comfort and stress relief. Additionally, pet owners are likely to connect and develop friendships at dog parks and other pet-friendly locations. 

    Stress-busters: The risk of developing cardiovascular disease is increased by chronic exposure to stress and the byproducts of stress: high blood pressure, elevated heart rates and toxic doses of stress hormones. Pet ownership can  diminish our fight-or-flight response to stress, according to Dr. Nasir.

    During a study of 240 couples, pet owners (roughly half of the group) had significantly lower resting heart rates and blood pressure levels than the other participants. What’s more, in stressful situations, pet owners had a muted (healthier) response to stress and were able to recover faster, as measured by prompt returns to baseline levels for heart rate and blood pressure. The recovery time was even better when the pets were present.

    “Some companies in the U.S. are starting to recognize that people perform better in the presence of their pets,” Dr. Nasir says.

    But before you head out to the animal shelter, Dr. Nasir has a few notes of caution: Owning a pet is not a cure-all.

    “People shouldn’t think that by getting a dog they can continue to engage in unhealthy habits, such as smoking and overeating, and remain healthy,” he says.  

    But if you’re an animal lover who hasn’t been motivated to get active or to adopt a pet, these facts may be just what you need to join the pack.


    Healthcare that Cares

    With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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