Having A Dog Has Surprising Benefits For Your Heart Health, Study Finds

Registered Yoga Teacher By Georgina Berbari
Registered Yoga Teacher
Georgina Berbari is a Brooklyn-based health and wellness writer who reports for mindbodygreen, Elite Daily, Bustle, and elsewhere. She's also a certified yoga teacher through the Yoga Alliance and teaches both yoga and meditation.

Image by Mauro Grigollo / Stocksy

Ever since I picked up my dog from the shelter, my life has been significantly better. From his unconditional love, to his curious playfulness, to the lessons in responsibility and self-care that he teaches me daily, I can confidently say that being a dog owner is such a privilege. So, when a new study revealed that owning a dog may help maintain a healthy heart, I wasn't even remotely surprised; I mean, these animals are truly too pure for this earth.

The study, recently published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings: Innovations, Quality & Outcomes, sought to examine the association between pet ownership (namely, dog ownership) and cardiovascular health and disease risk factors. The researchers gathered data on 1,769 people, who were assessed and scored based on the American Heart Association's Life's seven ideal health behaviors and factors: body mass index, diet, physical activity, smoking status, blood pressure, blood glucose, and total cholesterol. The subjects had no history of heart disease, and the scientists used these health scoring guidelines in order to compare the cardiovascular health of pet owners to those who don't own pets. 

"In general, people who owned any pet were more likely to report more physical activity, better diet and blood sugar at ideal level," Andrea Maugeri, Ph.D., a researcher with the International Clinical Research Center at St. Anne's University Hospital in Brno and the University of Catania in Catania, Italy, in a news release. "The greatest benefits from having a pet were for those who owned a dog, independent of their age, sex, and education level."

That might be because people who have dogs tend to go outside more regularly and generally move around a lot more to play with and take care of them. "Owning a dog also has been linked to better mental health in other studies and less perception of social isolation—both risk factors for heart attacks," Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, M.D., chair of the Division of Preventive Cardiology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said in the news release. This is supported by a 2018 study conducted out of the University of British Columbia that brought light to the prospect that having a dog could ease symptoms of depression. Other research has shown pets help older people feel less stressed and less lonely.

"We humans are capable of disappointment, criticism, judgment, and betrayal," holistic psychotherapist Alison Stone, LCSW, told mbg. "For the most part, pets just want to love and be loved. Studies have shown that just 10 minutes of interacting with dogs can raise our oxytocin levels."

So, whether you want to boost your heart health, improve your mental state, or just have a supportive, loving, and endlessly accepting companion to care for and navigate life with, adopting a dog might be something to consider. Keep in mind that rescuing a dog (or any pet) is a huge responsibility and not one to be taken lightly—but when you're ready, it might just prove to be one of the most rewarding decisions you'll ever make.

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