Can Pets Improve Your Heart Health?

Pets can light up your lives in so many ways, but did you know they can be good for your health, too? A pet can improve your self-esteem, make you more conscientious, encourage physical activity, and help block any negativity that may come with social rejection or a souring relationship.1 That’s not all though! The unconditional love you feel for pets can make your heart stronger – literally. Research shows that interacting with your furry or feathery friends can benefit the heart in various ways.2 Here’s what a pet can do for your heart!

Lower Stress With Your Pet

Psychosocial stress accounts for

approximately 30% of a person’s risk of a heart attack. Anxiety, depression, and hostility can increase this risk. Stress can cause inflammation, metabolic irregularities, damage to the inner lining of blood vessels (endothelial dysfunction), and insulin resistance. It does this by negatively affecting your hormonal and autonomic balance.3

Research shows that interacting with a dog can have a positive effect on your endocrine responses, which is reflected in changes in the levels of stress hormones norepinephrine, epinephrine, and cortisol.4 In one study, children’s cortisol levels were actually lower while interacting with a friendly dog versus a friendly human.5 In another study, people who petted a dog, whether their own or a stranger’s, experienced a greater reduction in cortisol levels as against other activities like reading a book.6

Reduce Your Blood Pressure

Compared to chatting with a friend or cozying up with a good book, petting a dog can actually lower your blood pressure more – and that’s good news for your heart, too. In fact, stroking your dog for about three minutes can lead to lowered heart rates nearly an hour later.7

In one study among people hospitalized for heart problems, systolic pulmonary artery pressure reduced to a greater degree after a visit by a person with a dog when

compared to a visit by just a person. Another interesting finding – the presence of a pet during a stressful event can be more helpful than being alone, with a friend, or even your spouse. The company of a pet actually translates to a lower heart rate and blood pressure under stress.8

Beat The Blues

Depression is a major risk factor for heart disease. In fact, those with heart disease have two to three times higher mortality rates if they are also struggling with depression.9 But pets can help reverse this situation. As one study found, the rate of depression decreased when people living in a nursing home had a resident dog or were visited by dogs.10 Even looking after a canary for three months can lower depression and improve the quality of life, researchers point out.11 Visits by animals have also been found to reduce loneliness in people in long-term care institutions.12

That Pooch Is Meant For Walking

Getting as little as 30 minutes of walking per day can be significantly beneficial for the health of your heart, reducing the chances of cardiovascular disease and stroke.13 Dogs in particular can easily help you reach this goal.

Dog owners are more likely than non-dog owners to engage in the recommended daily level of physical activity: A Japanese study showed that they were 54% more likely to do so, while a Canadian study found that dog owners walked about 132 more minutes per week than those without a dog. This means obesity levels are typically lower for dog walkers as well.14

Caring For Your Heart

The company of a pet can mean a better quality of life for someone with heart disease. In fact, it can even increase their survival rate. Among people with cardiovascular diseases, mortality rates were about four times higher in non-dog owners than in dog owners, after accounting for differences in the severity of heart disease.15

So, if you’ve opened up your heart to a pet, your heart and your overall health will likely be the better for it. Just remember that caring for a pet is a big responsibility, so weigh your options carefully before adopting one. Once it’s done, this decision is sure to brighten up your life – and maybe even extend it as well!