Lassie. Old Yeller. Benji. Beethoven. Toto.
All these names belong to the famous best friends' of movie main stars or were the main stars of their own movies.
Could these love-able beings also help your heart health?
Now, the science is still a little fuzzy (no pun intended) on the correlation between dogs the dog-owner's heart health. However, no one would question the heartwarming effects that our favorite canines have on us...even on the gloomiest days. Why, even cat-owners swear that their felines have wonderful therapeutic effects on them, but even that is still not fully supported by science (as of yet).
There are several studies that have shown that dog owners may have lower blood pressure than non-dog owners. The studies show that dogs can provide a calming effect and can cause owners to get more exercise.
Dogs and other pets can also be trained to be therapy pets, which can assist with the emotional health of a person. "Just spending five minutes with a dog can actually increase the release of endorphins (the brain chemical that makes you feel good and decreases pain) and improves blood pressure,” states Kim Bissing, Pet Therapy Coordinator at Orlando Health.
There is also some evidence, provided by the American Heart Association, that owning a dog can lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. So far, the research suggests that dog owners are more likely to exercise, have a better cholesterol profile, have lower blood pressure, are less vulnerable to the physical effects of stress, and are more likely to survive a heart attack.
There's also longevity. "People who have dogs live longer than people who have cats, and the assumption has been that dogs naturally cause their owners to be more active," suggests Dr. Thomas Lee, Co-Editor in Chief of the Harvard Heart Letter, "The emotional benefits of having an affectionate creature are also one of the theories for why dog-lovers may live longer."
Even though dogs make great companions, “the primary purpose of adopting, rescuing, or purchasing a pet should not be to achieve a reduction in cardiovascular risk", states the AHA panel who did the study.
“Loneliness can’t be a good thing, either from a cardiovascular or a psychological perspective,” Dr. Lee notes. “I am not going to be prescribing dogs for patients with heart disease, but I certainly won’t discourage them—even if they consider themselves fairly limited by their medical problems."
Make sure to keep a healthy diet, be as active as you can, keep up with your health, and if adopting a dog is in your future, you should go for it!