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Owning a Pet Can Help Reduce Heart Disease Risk

Update Date: May 09, 2013 04:12 PM EDT

Having a pet could lower a person's risk of heart disease, according to heart experts.

"Pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, is probably associated with a decreased risk of heart disease," Dr. Glenn N. Levine, a professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, said in a statement by the American Heart Association.

The statement published online in the journal Circulation underlines some of the cardiovascular benefits of owning a pet.

Owning a pet has been linked to a reduction in heart disease risk factors and a higher survival rate among heart patients. However, experts note that these previous findings aren't definitive and do not necessarily prove that owning a pet directly causes a reduction in heart disease risk.

"It may be simply that healthier people are the ones that have pets, not that having a pet actually leads to or causes reduction in cardiovascular risk," Levine explained.

Researchers found that dog ownership in particular may help reduce cardiovascular risk.  Past findings suggest that dog owners may engage in more physical activity because they need to walk their dogs.  In a previous study of more than 5,200 people, adults who owned dogs engaged in more walking and physical activity than adults who didn't have dogs. Dog owners were also 54 percent more likely to get the recommended level of physical activity.

Other studies have found that having a pet may be associated with lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels and incidence of obesity.  Studies have also found that pets can have a positive effect on the body's reactions to stress.

"In essence, data suggest that there probably is an association between pet ownership and decreased cardiovascular risk," Levine said.

"What's less clear is whether the act of adopting or acquiring a pet could lead to a reduction in cardiovascular risk in those with pre-existing disease. Further research, including better quality studies, is needed to more definitively answer this question," he noted.

However, even if there is a likely link between owning a pet and heart health, researchers say people shouldn't adopt, secure or buy a pet just to reduce their cardiovascular risk.

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