They say that a dog is man’s best friend, but studies now are showing that your dog could also be heart-friendly.
A growing amount of evidence suggests an association between pet ownership and better heart health. Though a direct cause/effect relationship hasn’t been found, studies have shown a link between decreased cardiovascular disease and pet ownership.
The simple act of petting a dog creates a physiological response that prompts the release of serotonin and oxytocin, or the “feel good chemicals,” which help lower stress levels, decrease anxiety and lower blood pressure, says Megan Walsh, LCPC, a licensed clinical professional counselor with Linden Oaks Behavioral Health, who also had a therapy dog.
Both she and Elizabeth Hill, LCPC, supervisor of Linden Oaks’ rehab services department, have seen the calming effect a dog can have in therapy sessions, with a patient in crisis, or in their own daily lives.
“You instantly feel a sense of calm and even joy when you are connecting with an animal,” says Hill, also a licensed clinical professional counselor and dog owner.
In 2013, the American Heart Association (AHA) issued a scientific statement noting the potential benefits of pet ownership for heart health.
Though the AHA acknowledged that a causal relationship between pet ownership and better heart health hasn’t been found, they highlighted the many studies finding associated benefits, including:
The AHA recommends being active with your pet. Some suggestions include going for walks, spending time at the dog park, playing fetch or having fun at the beach.
Although studies have focused mostly on dogs for their potential to be beneficial to heart health, Walsh notes that any pet can help with overall health.
“It doesn’t have to be a cute and fluffy puppy or cat, just whatever someone feels a bond with,” Walsh says.
While there may be many associated benefits of pet ownership, the AHA warns against pet ownership simply for the health benefit. Walsh and Hill both suggest studying your options and making sure pet ownership is a right fit for you.
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Learn more from Healthy Driven Chicago:
Five cardiac risk factors you need to know
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