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Why raining cats and dogs isn't all bad: How pets impact your blood pressure and your heart health

Heart and Vascular Primary Care Wellness
Man with a dog

With their furry cuteness and unique personalities, our pets hold a special place in our hearts. Even more, doctors agree they can make our hearts healthier, too.

Study after study shows pet owners, particularly those with dogs, are healthier both physically and mentally with the companionship pets provide. The American Heart Association notes that “pet ownership may help increase fitness levels, relieve stress, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and boost overall happiness and well-being.”

Charles Vaughan, M.D., a cardiologist with Riverside Cardiology Specialists, agrees. “While not the right fit for everyone, we’ve found that individuals who regularly walk their dogs often get more consistent exercise than those with no pets nudging them out the door multiple times a day.” A dog owner himself, Vaughan added, “having pets can be another way to improve and maintain overall health.”

Ways pets improve our health

Researchers have conducted a wide range of studies all over the world looking at pets and their health effects on their human companions. They’ve concluded that having pets can:

  • Encourage more physical activity
  • Lower the body mass index of their owners
  • Lower resting heart rates
  • Lower systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading)
  • Reduce cholesterol levels
  • Reduce stress

Most of the studies focus on dog owners and even differentiated between dog owners who walked their dogs and those who didn’t. Dog owners who walked their dogs regularly reaped the most significant health benefits.

Pets and our mental health

Service dogs and therapy dogs are a testament to the healing power of an animal.

Of course, walking a dog can get us moving – and chatting with others as we’re out and about. But research has found owning any kind of pet can boost our mood and provide companionship, especially to those who live alone.

Pets give us a purpose and provide unconditional love. They’re excited to see us and stay by our side when we’re feeling down.

When it comes to our mental health, pets reduce:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Loneliness
  • Social isolation
  • Stress

“When you improve your mood and stress level, you, in turn, boost your physical health,” Vaughan says.

If you don’t already have a pet and would like to welcome one into your family, be sure to pick one that fits your lifestyle – and then embrace all the ways your new family member enhances your life, even if they can make you crazy sometimes, too!

If you want to discuss your risk factors for heart and vascular disease, talk to your cardiologist or your primary care provider. To see a Riverside primary care provider call 757-534-5352 to make an appointment or ask how to be seen safely through a secure video visit.

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