This month 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.