Give your pets extra hugs and love this month to thank them for keeping your heart healthy. Research has proven that pets provide us with a whole range of heart health benefits. Overall, pet owners have a lower risk of dying from any cardiac disease, including heart failure.
February is American Heart Month. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States; one in every three deaths is from heart disease and stroke, equal to 2,200 deaths per day. Prevention starts with everyone. Protect yourself and your loved ones from heart disease and stroke by understanding the risks and taking these steps:
- Get up and get active by being physically active for at least 30 minutes every day. (Big Hint: dogs love and need to be walked every day!)
- Find out if you have high Blood Pressure or Cholesterol, and if you do, see your doctor and seek effective treatment (and surround yourself with animals to help keep that blood pressure and cholesterol in check).
- If you do not have any pets, ADOPT ONE OR MORE NOW! (read on to learn how animals can help your heart stay healthy.)
CHOLESTEROL – doctors still recommend that you follow guidelines regarding diet, exercise, and medication to keep your cholesterol within healthy ranges. But owning a pet has the potential of making it easier to avoid the dangers of cholesterol. Researchers have documented lower levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in people who own pets compared to people who don’t. This is attributed to lifestyle factors of pet owners – pets keep you active and on your game!
BLOOD PRESSURE – you still have to watch your weight and exercise, but having a pet can help you manage your blood pressure. In one study of 240 couples, pet owners had lower blood pressure and lower heart rates during rest than people who did not own a pet. That held true whether they were at rest or undergoing stress tests. Another study showed that children with hypertension lowered their blood pressure while petting their dog.
STRESS LEVELS – it only takes a few minutes with a dog or cat to feel less anxious and less stressed. Your body actually goes through physical changes in that time that make a difference in your mood. The level of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress, is lowered. And the production of serotonin, a chemical associated with well-being, is increased. Reducing stress saves your body wear and tear.
Research has shown the long-term benefits of owning a cat include protection for your heart. Over the 20 years of one study, people who never owned a cat were 40% more likely to die of a heart attack than those who had cats.
Researchers aren’t sure why, but cat owners have fewer strokes than people who don’t own cats. It’s partly due to the effects owning a pet can have on a person’s circulation. But researchers speculate that cats may have a more calming effect on their owners than other animals do. It may also have something to do with the personality of a cat owner. Cats often become the focus of their owner’s interest, which diverts them from other stressful worries.
Another study showed that dog owners had a significantly better survival rate one year after a heart attack. Heart attack survivors and people with serious abnormal heart rhythms who own dogs live longer than people with the same heart problems who don’t have pets.
Your dog may make you less likely to get heart disease. Why? Dog owners walk more and have lower blood pressure than people who don’t have dogs. People who own dogs tend to be more physically active and less obese than people who don’t. Taking your dog for a daily 30-minute walk will keep you moving and ensure that you meet the minimum recommendations for healthy physical activity. Two 15-minute walks, one in the morning and one in the evening, will do the same thing. And after that, just playing fetch in the back yard with your dog will earn you healthful dividends.
As if you did not already have enough reasons to love your pets, well now you have a few more. And if you are one of those out there thinking about adopting a pet, STOP HESITATING! February is American Heart Month and what better time to go and save a beautiful animal, friend and companion who needs you just as much as you need them. That precious fur-baby and your heart will thank you.