10 Reasons Why Owning A Pet Can Greatly Improve Your Heart Health

Pets bring us a lot of joy, but they can also work to improve the healthiness of our cardiovascular system.
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You sigh and open the door. It's been a long day, but you're finally home. No sooner have you taken off your coat and shoes than you unconsciously turn towards the television. You plop down on the couch and reach for the remote. Time to relax. Instead, your hand grazes across a smiling, furry face looking up at you eagerly.

"That's right," you recall, failing to fight the grin that creeps onto your face. You play for a bit, then start making dinner. He's hungry too.

sleeping dog
Image Source: Pexels

Pets have a special place in our hearts. So it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that pets can actually improve our cardiovascular health, which remains key to our overall fitness and wellbeing. But how do our tiny friends do this? Well, listed here are ten reasons why owning a pet can greatly improve your heart health.

1. Interacting with Pets Can Release Heart-Healthy Hormones

Science examining dog ownership suggests that simply petting your household pal can induce an automatic relaxation response and promote the release of mood-elevating hormones such as oxytocin. This extends, of course, to other animals as well.

These experiences, in addition to the comfort they provide, actually work to enhance the health of your cardiovascular system. As per a scientific article published in the Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research, oxytocin plays specific anti-inflammatory and cardioprotective roles and improves certain vascular and metabolic functions.

Simply put, the oxytocin released helps heal and protect your heart, as well as elevate your mood, all because of a seconds-long gesture with an animal probably less than half your size.

2. Spending Time with Your Pet Can Lower Stress Levels

Although not surprising given their ability to alter your mood, pets can also lower your stress levels. Most likely due to the release of the aforementioned mood-elevating hormones, the reduction of the stress hormone cortisol in your body can actually function to better the state of your heart.

As a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology points out, there is vast literature linking stress to heart damage. Cutting out stress can therefore lower your chances of developing a life-threatening condition.

Pets are also a better solution for managing stress, as opposed to poor health behaviors that are more highly associated with heart disease and stroke (e.g., smoking, overeating, etc.). You're better off with a loving pet. I myself can personally attest to the relaxing effect a cheerful dog or attentive cat can bring. The tiredness of a hard day will often evaporate after an afternoon of fun.

3. Owning a Pet Can Also Increase Your Level of Physical Activity

Pet owners are also given more of a chance to engage in physical activity, which remains integral to maintaining one's heart health. One study out of the American Heart Association even argues that people who walk their dogs get significantly more exercise than those who don’t. And while your level of physical interaction certainly depends on which type of pet you have, even slight physical exercise can work in your favor.

Now compare that to the amount of time you might spend walking and/or playing with an animal that gets excited merely by the sight of a ball moving. One can quickly see how a pet can get you moving and improving your heart health.

4. A Pet Can Help Ease Depression

As previously mentioned, pets help release mood-elevating hormones into your bloodstream. These hormones can help ease depression and bring that frown right side around.

While this might seem only tangentially related to one's heart health, the fact of the matter is that negative mental health conditions like depression are associated with potentially harmful responses in our bodies, such as arrhythmias, myocardial infarction, and heart failure. Having a pet that helps curb depression can therefore improve the health state of your heart.

5. A Pet Can Offer Companionship

cat lying down
Image Source: Pexels

As is obvious to any pet owner, an animal friend in your house can help stave off loneliness. Walking home to be greeted by a smiling animal amigo can certainly scratch that loneliness itch for a lot of people.

And it shouldn't surprise anyone that stymieing the depressive feelings of isolation can yield palpable health benefits. According to one study, loneliness was an independent risk factor for depressive symptoms, which, as noted, is associated with poor heart health. Having a pet in the house that can offer some companionship is therefore a surefire way to combat loneliness and stave off depression.

6. Owning a Pet Can Help You Connect with Others

Owning a pet can also work to get you in touch with other people. Besides being a great excuse to meet other pet owners, cats and dogs, among other pets, are often a means of bringing family members and friends together. Most of us, it seems, have a personal affinity for the little animals that run around in our homes.

And fighting loneliness (see earlier) offers a multitude of benefits to both your mental and physical health, extending of course to the cardiovascular system.

7. Taking Care of a Pet Can Give You a Sense of Purpose

While most pet owners can attest to the downsides of owning a pet, it should be noted that taking care of another living being offers profound rewards in its own right. Interestingly enough, such a sense of purpose can yield benefits to one's physical and mental health.

According to a study led by the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, a high sense of purpose in life was associated with lower odds of myocardial infarction, or a heart attack, in adults.

If a pet owner can derive such purpose from the care and love of a pet, it can be reasoned that owning a pet can provide measurable benefits to one's heart health.

8. Managing the Responsibilities of Pet Ownership Can Set You on a Routine

It's no secret that pets require regular care and oversight. If this compels you to abide by a consistent schedule, it may become likely that you develop other health habits as a consequence. Getting up early to take care of your dog, for instance, might give you some extra workout time, or a chance to make a healthy breakfast. Whatever the healthy habit, a consistent routine of such can eventually build up your heart health.

9. Growing up with a Pet Can Strengthen Your Immune System

Pets bring new allergens into a home, but growing up with a pet can strengthen your immunity to these harmful allergens over time. As one study suggests, there exists a negative association between early exposure to cats and dogs and wheezing in children—wheezing being a sign of difficulty breathing, often as a result of an immune response. A stronger immune system can therefore better protect you from infections, which in turn can better protect your heart.

10. Learning How to Take Care of a Pet Can Also Teach You Healthy Habits

Although most animals are very different from us in terms of their anatomy and physiology, understanding the importance of concepts like proper exercise and healthy eating are beneficial for our health as much as theirs. Knowing that my neighbor needs to take her dog out for a walk every now and then, for example, is a reminder for me to regularly get exercise too. This, of course, translates back into better heart health, among other health benefits.

It's for these and many other reasons that owning a pet can be good for your heart. Although most people prefer either cats or dogs, you can't go wrong with a number of other animals. Of course, it's possible that your pet fails to relax you, get you off the couch, reduce your stress levels, or improve your cardiovascular system in any other way. And to that, I say: well, there's always Zumba.

Michael Valeri is a recent graduate of Hamilton College. He enjoys origami, biking, and playing the kalimba. He hopes you like his work.

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