We Americans love our pets like no other society. Two-thirds of American households have at least one pet… and we spend an astounding $61 billion a year on them.
But do they give us more than companionship?
According to a new report from the American Heart Association (AHA), the answer is “You bet!”
In the latest issue of their journal, Circulation, the AHA says owning a pet – especially a dog – is likely to cut your risk of heart trouble.1 This really caught my eye, because the AHA doesn’t make claims like these lightly. Or often.
Here’s what the AHA statement says…
- Pet ownership is probably linked to a lower risk of heart trouble and to a lower risk of death if you have heart trouble.
- Having a dog appears to offer a bigger benefit, because owning a dog often means you’ll get more exercise than people who don’t own pets.
- Owning a pet also appears to be linked to lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels and a lower risk of obesity.
- If you have a pet, you may be able to handle stress better than people who don’t own pets.
You probably noticed a lot of “maybes” in those statements. That’s because they can’t prove it’s the pet itself that makes the difference. For example, pet owners may tend to have healthier habits in general.
If so, that would be an awful lot of coincidence.
And I’ve seen a fair amount of evidence to support the idea that pets are good for your health. For example…
A 2009 Australian study looked at 5,741 people who attended a free health screening. Among the questions they asked was, ”Do you own a pet?”
Male pet owners had lower blood pressure, lower triglycerides (blood fat) and lower cholesterol than men who didn’t own pets. Female pet owners over 40 also had lower blood pressure and triglycerides than women who didn’t own pets.
These differences remained even after accounting for smoking, diet, weight and other factors.2
When psychologists ran a series of studies in 2011, they found several benefits to pet ownership. They discovered that pet owners felt better about themselves and got more exercise than non-owners. They also found pets helped their owners deal with social rejection better.3
The AHA report found a bigger benefit with dog ownership. But I wouldn’t count cats out, either.
A large study published in 2009 found a link between cat ownership and heart health. After 20 years of follow-up on a group of cat owners and non-owners, the study team found cat owners had up to a 37% lower risk of dying from heart trouble than non-owners.4
Those are some big benefits. But don’t rush out and get a pet. It’s not like taking a new nutritional supplement. A bottle of pills is gone in no time. But pet ownership is a big commitment. Medium-sized dogs can live 10 – 12 years… and 20-year-old indoor cats are common.
If you don’t have a pet and think you’d like one, sit down with your family first. Consider your current health and lifestyle to see if a pet would be a good fit.
If you’re not sure – or you know a pet isn’t practical – you can still get some of the benefit. Try volunteering at your local animal shelter. Not only will you get the healthful interaction with animals… but volunteering itself is also linked to better health.
Yours in continued good health,
Best Life Herbals Wellness Team
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1 “Pets may help reduce your risk of heart disease,” American Heart Association. May 9, 2013.
2 Anderson, W.P., et al, “Pet ownership and risk factors for cardiovascular disease,” Med J Aust. Sep 7, 1992; 157(5): 298-301.
3 McConnell, A.R., et al, “Friends with benefits: On the positive consequences of pet ownership,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Dec 2011; 101(6): 1239-1252.
4 Qureshi, A.I., et al, “Cat ownership and the Risk of Fatal Cardiovascular Diseases. Results from the Second National Health and Nutrition Examination Study Mortality Follow-up Study,” J Vasc Interv Neurol. Jan 2009; 2(1): 132–135.
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