4 Furry Secrets to a Healthy Heart

Over the years, a huge body of scientific research has shown that, by and large, pet owners are happier and healthier than folks who do not share their homes with furry companions. And now, after examining scads of studies, the American Heart Association has issued a statement saying that owning a pet can reduce your danger of cardiovascular disease and improve your odds of surviving a heart attack. There are four reasons:

Increased movement. Dog owners who walk and play with their pets are 54 percent more likely to get the level of physical activity recommended for good heart health. But don’t worry if you’re more of a cat person than a dog person. Having a cat in the household also demands that you get up off the couch and move your body around — and every step helps.

Lowered key numbers. Owning a pet, whether canine or feline, has been directly linked to lower blood pressure and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and a lower likelihood of obesity — thereby mitigating three major risk factors for heart disease.

Reduced stress. Research shows that simply looking at a beloved pet calms you down in two ways: Your body releases a powerful feel-good chemical called oxytocin and, and the same time, decreases its output of the stress hormone cortisol.

Social interaction. This is an especially important factor if you live alone because study after study has found that interacting with animals (just as with people) leads to better health — including a stronger heart — and a longer life. Plus, when you have a dog, in addition to benefiting from his companionship at home, you get daily opportunities to boost your social time by taking Fido out to mix and mingle with human neighbors and passersby.