Owning a dog could be the key to a healthier life.

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Terrier Dog with Leash in Mouth
Credit: Getty Images

The unconditional love of our dogs plays an important role in our emotional well-being, but studies show they could also have an impact on our physical health. “According to research published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes in October 2019, dog owners are 31% less likely to die from a heart attack or stroke than those who don’t have them, and in people with prior heart events, those living in a ‘dog home’ had a 65% reduced risk of death,” says Dr. Glenn Levine, volunteer medical expert for the American Heart Association’s Healthy Bond for Life.

Walk It Out

Taking the dog on his daily stroll around the block can seem like a tedious chore, but he’s not the only one benefiting from the regular exercise. Staying physically active alongside your pet can reduce risks for being overweight and developing cardiovascular disease and can help with maintaining a healthy blood pressure. “Dog owners are more likely to reach their fitness goals than those without canine companions. In fact, they are 34% more likely to fit in 150 minutes of walking a week and are more likely to reach the recommended amounts of physical activity per week,” Levine says.

Make It a Family Affair

Establishing healthy habits at a young age will benefit kids and teens as they get older. “Pets may give children an incentive to spend more time outside, leading to more activity and better fitness levels and cutting their disease risk later in life. Teens from dog-owning families are more physically active than those whose families don’t own a pet,” says Levine.

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Boost Your Mood

According to Levine, stress can affect our behaviors and increase our risks of heart disease (like high blood pressure and cholesterol levels), along with smoking, lack of physical activity, and overeating. After a challenging day, bonding with our pets can combat stress and improve our emotional states. “When we see, touch, hear, or talk to our animals, we feel a sense of happiness and joy. At the same time, stress hormones are suppressed,” says Levine. “So if you’re feeling down or struggling with your mental health, your pet can help. Spend some time with them playing or just petting them. You may find that you feel better, and your pet will love the bonding time too,” he says.