Having a pet, especially a dog, may reduce a person’s risk of heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.

The statement was published in the journal Circulation after experts reviewed past research on the influence of pets.

“Pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, is probably associated with a decreased risk of heart disease,” said Glenn N. Levine, M.D., professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, and chair of the committee.

Research indicates that pet ownership is likely linked to a decrease in cardiovascular disease risk factors and increased survival among patients, according to the experts.

However, Levine pointed out that the reports are not conclusive and do not undoubtedly show that owning a pet directly causes a reduction in the risk of heart disease.

Levine said:

“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.”

Owning a dog, especially, may help lower the risk of heart disease. This is because people who have dogs might be exercising more because they walk with them.

In an investigation that involved over 5,200 adults, people who owned dogs engaged in more walking and physical activity than non-dog owners. Results showed that dog owners had a 54% higher probability of getting the recommended amount of physical activity.

A 2011 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showed that young dog owners are more physically active.

According to the reviewed research, owning pets may be linked to a:

Additionally, pets can have a beneficial impact on the body’s response to stress.

A 2007 report published in the British Journal of Health Psycholog revealed that having a pet dog improves your physical and mental health more than having a cat.

Levine said:

“In essence, data suggest that there probably is an association between pet ownership and decreased cardiovascular risk. 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.”

Even though the association between having a pet and a reduced risk of heart disease is likely, Levine explained, people should not have a pet solely for that reason.

Written by Sarah Glynn