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The Connection between Humans, Animals, and Heart Health

The Connection between Humans, Animals, and Heart Health

Ask any pet owner and they’ll agree, pets bring us joy and are a true comfort. What our dogs may not know is that there’s scientific research to show people are happier and healthier in the presence of animals, us humans know there's something magical about it.

This mutually beneficial relationship between people and animals is commonly referred to as the human-animal bond.

The benefits of the human-animal bond are wide-ranging, and positive interaction with animals can confer health benefits at every stage of life. Scientifically-documented benefits of the human-animal bond include decreased blood pressure, reduced stress, increased social connection and enhanced feelings of emotional well-being.

Research also shows that the more pet owners learn about the science of the human-animal bond, the more likely they are to take better care of their pets, from keeping up with preventative medicine to taking pets to the veterinarian for regular check-ups and more.

The connection between heart health and the animal bond

The Human-Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) is so proud to partner with DOGTV to expand access to resources and information on the human-animal bond to pet owners around the world.

We all love our dogs, and with Valentine’s Day around the corner, there’s no better time to kick off this partnership! Watch DOGTV and learn how you can support human-animal bond research and show love for your dog at the same time.

February is also Heart Health Month, so we’ve compiled some of the top science-supporting pets for healthier hearts. Research suggests pet ownership and human-animal interaction (HAI) can lead to improved heart health by supporting a healthy lifestyle, preventing heart disease, and facilitating healing following a cardiovascular event. Cardiovascular health is critically important to health at every age, and a healthy heart is essential to ensuring a long, healthy life.

High stress can contribute to many health issues associated with cardiovascular disease (CVD). Research indicates that pet ownership and HAI can positively impact stress through the reduction of cortisol, improvement of immune system functioning, pain management, increased trustworthiness of and trust toward others, reduced aggression, enhanced empathy, and improved learning.

For example, a study of 120 married couples demonstrated that, in the presence of a pet, people experienced less stress in response to a simple arithmetic test.

Pet ownership has also been shown to influence blood pressure. High blood pressure and cholesterol are identified by the American Heart Association as high risk factors for CVD. In one study of older adults with pre-to mild hypertension, dog ownership was associated with lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure. The researchers believe that dogs in this study had a direct effect on lowering diastolic blood pressure in their owners, and also indirectly lowered blood pressure by improving mood in their owners.

Positive changes in physical activity are another way pets can influence their owners’ heart health. Less than 5 percent of adults participate in 30 minutes of physical activity each day, and only one in three meet the recommended weekly level of physical activity.

Research has found that acquiring a dog leads people to walk more. On average, dog owners walk one hour more per week compared to non-owners, according to a study that analyzed data from nearly 6,000 Michigan adults. This study also found that compared to non-owners, the odds of obtaining at least 150 minutes of walking per week were 34 percent higher for dog walkers and the odds of doing any leisure-time physical activity were 69 percent higher.

Dog walking has also been associated with a reduced incidence of obesity. An observational epidemiological study of almost 2,200 subjects found a significantly lower incidence of obese dog walkers compared to owners who did not walk their dogs and non-owners, respectively.

While prevention of disease through healthy behaviors is key to living a heart-healthy life, research has found a connection between pet ownership and improved cardiovascular reactivity, which may aid in the recovery following a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or stroke. A nationwide study of Swedish CVD patients even suggested that dog owners encountered a lower risk of death following a heart attack compared to non-owners.

To raise awareness during Heart Health Month, HABRI created a new, sharable infographic on the powerful relationship between pet ownership and heart health. Please download it here and share with your friends and family.

How to Support the Science of the Human-Animal Bond

The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) is a non-profit organization that funds innovative research projects to scientifically document the health benefits of companion animals.

To stay informed on the latest from HABRI, please sign up for the HABRI Newsletter or follow them on social media.

And remember, the better we take care of our dogs, the more they will take care of us!