Is owning a dog good for your heart? That question has never been on the tips of anyone’s lips, and so it was quite a pleasant surprise last week when the American Heart Association interrupted the normal news cycle for an important announcement.
Owning a dog is good for your heart!
The results come from a panel of experts, which the association convened to review years of data on the cardiovascular benefits of owning a pet, according to the New York Times. The panel said that owning a dog was “probably associated” with a reduced risk of heart disease.
Why the “probably?”
“We didn’t want to make this too strong of a statement,” said Dr. Glenn Levine, a professor at the Baylor College of Medicine. “But there are plausible psychological, sociological, and physiological reasons to believe that pet ownership might actually have a causal role in decreasing cardiovascular risk.”
That’s good enough for us.
It turns out that the get-outside-and-walk-the-damn-dog aspect of pet ownership is making people healthy (such as our own Pamela Mitchell). That doesn’t sit well with some physicians.
“Very few people are meeting their exercise goals,” said Dr. Richard Krasuski, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic. “In an ideal society, where people are actually listening to physician recommendations, you wouldn’t need pets to drag people outside.”
In an ideal society, we would have flying cars, Rich.
The study found pet owners have greater amounts of physical activity, modestly lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and they’re more likely to survive heart attacks. Owning a pet is associated with lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, a lower incidence of obesity, and it has a positive effect on the body’s reactions to stress.
“Several studies showed that dogs decreased the body’s reaction to stress, with a decrease in heart rate, blood pressure, and adrenaline-like hormone release when a pet is present as opposed to when a pet is not present,” Levine said.
Doctors, however, are careful to temper these happy findings, lest people grab onto the data for dear life and do incredibly stupid things with it.
“If someone adopts a pet, but still sits on the couch and smokes and eats whatever they want and doesn’t control their blood pressure,” Levine said, “that’s not a prudent strategy to decrease their cardiovascular risk.”
Doctors also admit that they could be completely wrong about the whole thing, and that it’s not that dogs make you healthy, but maybe it’s that healthy people tend to have dogs.