The AHA stressed, however, that the studies they reviewed cannot prove that owning a pet directly reduces heart disease risk.
"It may be simply that healthier people are the ones that have pets, not that having a pet actually leads to or causes reduction in cardiovascular risk," statement committee chairman Dr. Glenn Levine, a professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, said in an AHA news release.
"There probably is an association between pet ownership and decreased cardiovascular risk," he said. "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."
In the meantime, George said, humans can benefit from the mental and physical rewards of furry companions. "Pets tug at our heartstrings," she said. "But they also improve our health -- both mental and physical -- helping us to live longer and happier lives."
The AHA statement was published online May 9 in the journal Circulation.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health outlines what you can do to reduce heart risk.
-- Robert Preidt
SOURCES: Barbara George Ed.D., R.N.,
director, Center for Cardiovascular Lifestyle Medicine, Winthrop-University Hospital, Mineola, N.Y.; Nieca Goldberg, M.D., clinical associate professor, department of medicine, Leon H. Charney Division of Cardiology, Joan H. Tisch Center for Women's Health, NYU Langone Medical Center, New York City; American Heart Association, news release, May 9, 2013
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