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In Stress and Coping

How Owning a Pet Improves Your Health

Spending more time with a dog may make you healthier as dogs increase their owners’ levels of physical activity.

Medina-Inojosa and his team reached this conclusion by analyzing the health metrics from over 1,700 people participating in the Kardiozive Brno 2030 study, in which a randomly chosen 1 percent of the population of the entire city of Brno, Czech Republic, was assessed for cardiovascular risk factors.

Researchers scored participants on seven health behaviors and metrics to calculate their overall cardiovascular health scores: body mass index, diet, physical activity, smoking status, blood pressure, blood glucose, and total cholesterol. None of the participants had a history of heart disease.

Researchers compared the cardiovascular health scores of pet owners to those of people who did not own pets. They also compared dog owners to other pet owners — including people with cats, lizards, or cockatoos — and those who did not own pets.

These comparisons revealed higher cardiovascular health scores for pet parents. Pet owners, especially dog owners, reported higher amounts of physical activity, better diets, and healthier glucose levels.

These results make intuitive sense for one major reason: Pets, especially dogs, make you move more.

Beyond that, though, they provide comfort and companionship, and reduce stress. Other research supports these health benefits: owning a pet leads to lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, less loneliness, and increased physical activity.

A 2017 study published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed pet owners had greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, tended to be less lonely, were more conscientious, were more extraverted, tended to be less fearful, and tended to be less preoccupied than non-owners.

These social factors are critical for heart health, too. Depression and loneliness or low social support are documented risk factors for heart attacks and cardiovascular disease.

The study did show one more surprising finding, though: Dog owners were more likely to smoke. But Medina attributes this trend to cultural factors— the study participants live in the Czech Republic, where smoking is prevalent.

But are people who get dogs just healthier to begin with? Or do they become healthier after they adopt a furry friend?

“It’s kind of an egg or a chick situation; who came first?” Medina says. “We don’t know.”

For now, though, Medina says he knows getting a dog seems to improve cardiovascular health.

So, if you’re on the fence (or maybe trying to convince your partner to purchase a pup), maybe add a healthier heart to your list of reasons.

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