Finally, some health news to bark about

SARAH MACKENZIE
Last updated 12:56 15/05/2013
dog
Bruce Mercer
ALL HEART: New research says having a cat or dog could lower the risk of heart disease by encouraging people to be more physically active, as well as reduce blood pressure and minimise the effects of stress.

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It's really something to bark about. Researchers have found that having a pet may lower your risk of heart disease, with dog ownership particularly beneficial.

A panel convened by the American Heart Association (AHA) reviewed research linking cardiovascular health with having a pet, and concluded that owning a pet is "probably associated" with a reduced risk of heart disease for people with no pre-existing cardio issues, and also with greater survival rates among heart disease patients.

The group said said having a cat or dog could lower the risk of heart disease by encouraging people to be more physically active, as well as reduce blood pressure and minimise the effects of stress.

Dog ownership in particular may have a positive influence on health. In the study of more than 5,200 adults, dog owners engaged in more walking and physical activity than non-dog owners and were 54 per cent more likely to get the recommended level of physical activity.

However Dr Glenn Levine, chair of the research panel, said while it was likely that taking care of a pet required owners to get more exercise which could reduce stress, weight and blood pressure, pets were not a panacea against heart disease.

"Despite the likely positive link, people shouldn't get a pet solely to reduce heart disease risk," he said.

"If someone adopts a pet, but still sits on the couch and smokes and eats whatever they want and doesn't control their blood pressure, that's not a prudent strategy to decrease their cardiovascular risk."

The fact that people with heart disease showed some survival benefit if they had a pet was also intriguing, although more research should clarify whether the added years came from the exercise, the reduced stress, or some combination of both."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," said Levine.

"Further research, including better quality studies, is needed to more definitively answer this question."

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