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Improve Heart Health with Furry Friends

Published in Behavioral Health Services, Heart & Vascular, Mental Health, For the Health of It Author: Alexa Herbst, MS, ACSM-CEP, Exercise Physiologist, CentraCare Heart & Vascular Center

There are a myriad of benefits of having a pet. I cannot imagine life without my golden retriever, Ellie Mae. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, having a pet can help to lower blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides. Pet ownership also has been shown to decrease stress, ease anxiety and improve mood.

Move with Your Mutt

Opening your heart to a dog is beneficial to your cardiac health. Dogs are a motivator for people to get out of the house and exercise, which can assist with weight loss and disease prevention. I am an active individual and love being outdoors, but I also know my dog needs exercise, which encourages me to be more active and go for walks with her in the fresh air. Ellie helps keep me motivated to increase my daily exercise because I know it is important for her, and also beneficial for me.

Ellie MaeHeart health benefits of owning a dog include a reduced risk of death by 24% — especially for people with a history of heart attack, which reduces the rate of mortality by 65%. Petting a dog helps to lower blood pressure during stressful times. It also may help to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Puppy Love

Even though I may not currently have heart issues, I notice that Ellie Mae always calms my mood, helps me to relax if I am overwhelmed and brings joy into my life. She adds an extra happiness into my life that I didn’t even know I needed. She truly is my reliable, furry companion who loves me unconditionally and is always happy wagging her tail when I get home.

Research shows, dog owners benefit from improved mental health. Dogs provide a sense of comfort and companionship. The scientific reasons include:

  • Playing with a pet can help to reduce anxiety/stress by increasing levels of serotonin and dopamine, which can help add a sense of calmness and relaxation.
  • Bonding with and petting a dog increases levels of oxytocin and lowers levels of cortisol and salivary alpha-amylase, which can help lower heart rate and blood pressure. 

Pets can decrease the sense of loneliness, lower prevalence of depression and improve self-esteem. Dogs also reduce social isolation by getting you out of the house and dogs often are a conversation starter with people you meet while out walking or at the dog park. 

Do Your Research

While there are a multitude of benefits of bringing home a furry friend, it is important to do your research and make an educated decision. Ask yourself how much time you realistically have to commit. If you cannot consistently walk a dog or provide playtime in the evening, it may be best to consider a low-demand pet.

Pets are a great, happy distraction from our troubles. Learn more about the health benefits of human-animal interactions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.