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Owning A Dog Linked With Having A Healthy Heart

May 10, 2013 05:10 AM EDT

Owning a pet, especially a dog, can improve one's heart health, according to a new statement by the American Heart Association.

The statement said that people who own a dog have lower risk of heart disease, although it is not a cause and effect relationship. It is more likely that healthier people tend to have pets and get more exercise than other people.

"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. Levine is chairperson of the committee that analyzed the studies conducted on pet and heart health, and wrote the latest statement.

Previous work conducted on pet ownership has shown that people with pets are more likely to live longer, happier lives than those who don't have any pets. Also, for some children, exposure to dogs early in life makes them less sensitive to allergens, which in turn reduce their chances of developing allergies.

In one of the studies reviewed by the committee, pet owners reported higher levels of physical activity than other people. This study included 5,200 adults and found that about 52 percent of dog-owners got the recommended amount of physical exercise.

Pet owners were also more likely to have lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure.

"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," Levine said in a news release.

Levine added that people shouldn't go and adopt a dog just because of its benefits on heart health.

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