37 | Fall 2017
friend who rescued a dog had a bumper
sticker that said, “Who rescued who?”
For a moment, set aside the truth that
a lot of love passes between pets and
their people and focus on what pets do
for our physical wellbeing. Now there is
evidence that dogs — because they need walking — improve
their owners’ cardiovascular health. In fact, there is enough
research that the American Heart Association published a
scientific statement on the subject. Here are a few findings
from some of the studies they reviewed:
• Pet owners had lower systolic blood pressure, pulse
pressure, and mean arterial pressure and a reduced
risk of high blood pressure. However, after adjustment
for age and other factors, pet ownership was no longer
associated with a lower blood pressure or incidence of
• Ambulatory BP monitoring (blood pressure is measured
as a person is moving about, doing their typical
daily activities) two and five months after adoption
demonstrated significantly lower systolic blood pressure
in the dog-adoption group.
• Compared with nonowners and new cat owners,
new dog owners increased their recreational walking
significantly more over a 10-month period.
• On average, dog owners engaged in significantly more
physical activity than nonowners (322.4 vs 267.1
minutes per week).
• On average, dog owners walked significantly more than
nonowners (150.3 vs 110.9 minutes per week).
• After adjustment, dog owners were 57 percent more
likely than nonowners to achieve the recommended level
of physical activity.
• Pet ownership appeared to make little or no difference
in obesity, but there may be a difference for owners that
walk their dogs.
There are probably a variety of reasons owning pets
is associated with reducing your risk of cardiovascular
disease. It may be that that people with dogs tend to
exercise more. Pets may also play a role in providing social
support to their owners, which could be an important factor
in helping you stick with a new habit or adopting a new
healthy behavior, such as walking. It’s unclear whether the
results are because dogs are the pets most commonly
owned and studied, if dogs are the pet most likely to
increase their owner’s physical activity or because of
additional beneficial effects of dog ownership.
The scientific statement concluded with these
• Pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, may be
reasonable for reduction in cardiovascular disease risk.
• Pet adoption, rescue or purchase should not be done
for the primary purpose of reducing cardiovascular
Whether or not you have a pet, regular aerobic physical
activity can help you lead a healthier life. Your physical activity
plan should include three to four sessions per week, lasting on
average 40 minutes per session, and involving moderate- to
vigorous-intensity physical activity. There are other important
actions you can take to improve your heart health, visit Heart
Insight’s Life’s Simple 7 department on the web.
Is Owning a Pet
Good for Your Heart?
By American Heart Association News