Daniel DeNoon

A dog could be your heart’s best friend

My twice-daily walks with my border collie, Clair DeNoon, are the highlights of my day. A new report from the American Heart Association will put an extra spring in my steps on these walks. It turns out that having a canine companion may help lower my risk of heart disease.

Studies linking pet ownership to better physical and mental health have been popping up for decades. The findings were usually encouraging to pet owners, but none of these studies offered conclusive proof. Although that’s still lacking, a panel of experts from the American Heart Association (AHA) has weighed all the available evidence. The verdict: Having a pet—a dog in particular—likely lowers the risk of heart disease. Why?

“People who have dogs live longer than people who have cats, and the assumption has been that dogs naturally cause their owners to be more active,” suggests Dr. Thomas Lee, Co-Editor in Chief of the Harvard Heart Letter. “The emotional benefits of having an affectionate creature are also one of the theories for why dog-lovers live longer.”

The evidence reviewed by the AHA indicates that dog owners are more likely to exercise, have a better cholesterol profile, have lower blood pressure, be less vulnerable to the physical effects of stress, and be more likely to survive a heart attack.

Or it could be the other way around, points out Dr. Lee, a cardiologist and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. It’s possible that healthier people—or those who are making the kinds of lifestyle changes that reduce heart risk—are more likely to have a dog than are people in frail health.

The AHA panel could not rule out this possibility. It admitted it can’t tell whether owning a dog causes heart health or is merely a marker for people more likely to have healthy hearts.

Even so, the panel’s cautious recommendation favors dogs: “Pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, may be reasonable for reduction in cardiovascular disease risk.” The statement on pet ownership was published online in the journal Circulation.

The case for dogs

Clair DeNoon

Clair DeNoon

If it were just about companionship, maybe dogs wouldn’t beat cats. But while the data show that dog owners get more physical activity than people who don’t own dogs, the evidence is pretty convincing that ownership isn’t enough. A 2008 study of 2,199 people found that those who owned a dog but didn’t walk it were actually more likely to be obese than people who didn’t own a dog. Dog walkers, on the other hand, were much less likely to be obese – although they were no less likely to be overweight than their petless peers.

But it’s not all about physical activity. A 2001 study looked at 48 people with high blood pressure and high-stress jobs who agreed to adopt a dog or a cat if so asked. Half did, and six months later those who got a dog or cat had significantly lower blood pressure when stressed.

Getting a dog also seems to help even if you already have heart disease. A 1995 study followed 369 people with cardiovascular disease. A year later, those who owned a dog were four times more likely to be alive than those who didn’t have a dog. Cats, however, did not improve their owners’ odds of survival.

Should you get a dog to help your heart?

If dog ownership is heart healthy, should everyone who cares about heart health have a dog?

No. According to the AHA panel, “the primary purpose of adopting, rescuing, or purchasing a pet should not be to achieve a reduction in cardiovascular risk.”

The mere act of getting a dog is no substitute for a plan to get regular physical activity, to eat a heart-healthy diet, and to get regular medical care. That said, dogs do seem to be good for your heart in many ways.

“Loneliness can’t be a good thing, either from a cardiovascular or a psychological perspective,” Dr. Lee notes. “I am not going to be prescribing dogs for patients with heart disease, but I certainly won’t discourage them—even if they consider themselves fairly limited by their medical problems.

So I say “Good dog!” C’mon, Claire DeNoon—let’s go for a walk.

Comments:

  1. Crysta

    I totally agree with this post. Being completely healthy well-being, one must have a good state of mind and socially healthy.Visiting places like Hawaii is great for unwinding and recreation activities.

  2. wow, this is great!

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    Very happy to see this post.This is really very nice article.I like dogs.

  4. Kim

    I love this article! I really know that training your dogs is important if you plan on walking them though. I know for me it was really important because I have English Mastiffs, but even when I had Labrador dogs it was important as well. They are loving dogs, but he would see a dog or squirrel and before training I would go along for a ride!

    Thank you for the great read!

  5. nick

    Dog’s are great, they are walways happy to see you when your home, and they always want to hang out with you.

    Love me dog!

  6. masix

    It is very good information, but I’m afraid of dogs :)

    thanks

  7. Dr. Wahl

    This is a great article, “Pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, may be reasonable for reduction in cardiovascular disease risk.” Dogs make great companions, and generally put a smile on your face. It is no suprise that the would also likely reduce cardio vascular disease. I would assume research may suggest that people who own dogs are generally more active. Great post
    Veterinarian

  8. budi

    its very nice information… i’ll wait for your next article etc :D :D :D

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    nice

  10. Christine Blythe

    I have been on disability from my government job for over two years and am currently applying for medical pension. My disability is a combination of PTSD, anxiety, depression, agoraphobia and stress.

    My two dogs are best friends. They provide distraction and a lot of enjoyment, providing much needed opportunities to smile and laugh.

    They also force me to interact with them (i.e. playing, walking, etc.)

    They truly are beneficial for mental disabilities as well.

    • Nate Scholz

      Christine,
      That’s a very nice comment and I’m touched by it for a few reasons. I believe in the benefits that pets bring to people with PTSD. I’ve read much about those suffering from living with thoughts of isolation, fear and emotional numbness to living a life of near normalcy. This work is truly amazing! I recently wrote an article about the care of family pets and, while not directly mentioning this topic, it was inspired by a similar situation. If the link is not allowed, the gist of the article is: take simple steps to care for your family pet each and every day as preventative and to protect them from diseases.

  11. paul

    great information for people with dogs or who are thinking of getting one.
    i rescued a small dog a couple years ago after i became disabled. he not only makes me have to take him on walks but he also helps me cope with my stress. i have never been a huge fan of dogs but since getting him he brings so much joy to my life, i don’t know now what i would do with out him. he even inspired me to start making dog clothing, i learned to sew and create dog clothes that are easy to wear and are comfortable for dogs.
    i love this information you provided everyone with.
    i hope the information helps people in making their decision on whether or not to bring a dog into their lives. if you can do it, it’s a wonderful thing!

  12. weight-loss-secret-guide

    It is very good information, but I don’t like dog. :)

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  14. kim

    Hi Daniel,

    Walking with dog is really good Daniel, Actually that is my daily routine in our province with my Prince. I don’t know how many kilometers that we can walk with my budy,that is from house going to the side sea, And that is really work it.

    I have high blood that why,I need to have some exercise.
    Not really heavy exercise but like what are you doing walking with dog.

    Anyway Daniel that is really good to our health, continue doing that. I can say Dog is really heart’s best friend.

    Thank you so much for sharing Daniel.

    Thanks a lot!

  15. John Monteith

    If you can’t or would rather not own a dog, try walking dogs at an animal shelter. The experience is even more intense. You’ll love it.

  16. Kay Steele

    Thought you’d like this. Perhaps you should start me too to walk the dog(s)!!!!!