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This monthman-holding-dog you’re bound to hear a lot about heart health—its impact on Americans, the right numbers to know, and the things you can do every day to keep your heart healthy. And, as it turns out, those with canine companions may have an advantage when it comes to that last one.

Recently the American Heart Association issued a statement saying pet owners are less likely than non-owners to develop heart disease. The report was based on data the AHA gathered about people and their pets (mostly dog owners) and went on to say that having a four-legged companion could conceivably be part of a heart disease prevention strategy.

But is it just that dogs make us exercise more, and exercise is good for the heart? Not necessarily—though the added physical activity is a plus. Research has shown that dog owners typically have lower blood pressure than non-owners, and while exercise certainly plays a role in promoting healthy blood pressure, it may also have something to do with the overall calming effect that comes from petting a dog.

And speaking of calm, our canine companions also seem to help us handle stress better. While most people experience an increase in heart rate and blood pressure when faced with a stressful situation, dog owners tend to have a less intense cardiovascular response. That means their heart rate and blood pressure are not so quick to skyrocket, and when they do become elevated, they take less time to return to normal. Finally, dog ownership has also been linked to healthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels, both of which are important for heart health.

So, amid all the advice you’ll hear this month about eating well and staying active, take a moment to say thanks to your best friend for giving you a head start on a healthier heart.

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girl-heart-in-handHeart disease remains the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, accountable for 1 in every 4 deaths each year. The good news is that we are not helpless against it, and together we can help prevent heart disease by making smarter choices about what we eat and how we live.

Celebrated each year in February, American Heart Month is the perfect time to start making small but important changes that will have a lasting impact on heart health, and a great place to start is with the Life’s Simple 7™ Action Plan from the American Heart Association (AHA):

  1. Get Active: Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity (such as brisk walking) each day, five times per week, to help lower your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Children should get 60 minutes a day, every day.
  2. Control Cholesterol: Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels protects your arteries and helps prevent blockages that can lead to heart disease and stroke. Get a regular screening, stay active, and eat foods that are low in cholesterol and unhealthy fats.
  3. Eat Better: A healthy diet is critical to preventing heart disease. Eat plenty of healthy fats (especially from fish and olive oil) along with low-sugar fruits, non-starchy veggies, protein, nuts and legumes. Eliminate added sugars, starchy carbohydrates and trans
  4. Manage Blood Pressure: High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Keeping your blood pressure in a healthy range with the right diet and lifestyle helps protect your heart as well as the blood vessels supporting it.
  5. Lose Weight: Being overweight or obese increases your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes—all of which may contribute to heart disease. Even losing five or 10 pounds can make a big difference when it comes to heart health!
  6. Reduce Blood Sugar: High blood sugar increases the risk of developing heart disease. Check your blood sugar levels regularly, and eliminate added sugars. Reduce your intake of carbohydrates from starchy foods such as breads, pasta and starchy veggies.
  7. Stop Smoking: Cigarette smokers have a higher risk of developing heart disease because of the damage smoking does to the entire circulatory system. Quitting is the one of the best things you can do for your heart!

This month, you can help raise awareness about heart disease and spread the word about the benefits of adopting the Life’s Simple 7™ Action for a healthier, happier heart. Be sure to get the word out in your community!

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