Dogs are renowned for their ability to interact with humans and make us feel good in a way that no other animal can. Just last week researchers reported the reason behind this: when dogs stare into our eyes, our body releases a surge of oxytocin, a hormone that plays a role in maternal bonding and trust. It also so happens that oxytocin lowers blood pressure!
Your Pets Can Improve your Heart Health
We recently wrote about fun ways to reduce your blood pressure. One tip was to pet your dog. Being with an affectionate animal like a dog or cat has been shown to help ward off depression, lower blood pressure (BP) and boost your immunity. Whether your pet is giving kisses, playing, stealing shoes and socks, laying beside his/her favorite human or greeting you with unrivaled enthusiasm when you come home, your pets engage you and impact you in amazingly positive ways that you may not be aware of. Many of these positive effects my be associated with the release of oxytocin.
Owning a dog or cat, not blood pressure medication, reduces blood pressure response to mental stress
For nearly 25 years, research has repeatedly shown that pets provide numerous physiological and psychological health benefits. For example, several studies have shown that being in the presence of your dog helps decrease the body’s reaction to stress – a decrease in heart rate, blood pressure and adrenaline-like stressor hormones.
In one “dogs and blood pressure” study, researchers divided a group of 48 stressed-out stockbrokers with hypertension, into 2 groups. Both groups were put on anti-hypertension medication (lisinopril) to lower their blood pressure. But Group 1 was also told to adopt a dog or cat. Six months later, the researchers found that those who had adopted pets were markedly calmer in the face of stressful events than those who just too their meds.
Specifically, when put in a stressful situation, those who had pets went from 120 to 126 for systolic blood pressure. Those who had no pets went from 120 to about 148. Nice job dogs and cats!
Run Your Own Dog and Blood Pressure Self Test
Try it yourself and see the short- and long-term effects. When you are exposed to a high stress event, measure your BP and record it (iOS, Android). Then the next time, first take 5 minutes to pet your dog and record it again. Check the trend view and see if over time you can see a lasting difference.
A Review of the Many Heart Health Benefits of Dog (and Cat) Ownership
After reviewing all of the research, this year the American Heart Association put out a statement: owning a dog may protect you from heart disease.
Here’s a quick summary of some of the benefits.
A Healthier Heart
Your dog may make you less likely to get heart disease for a number of reasons in addition to the release of oxytocin to reduce blood pressure. Dog owners tend to get more physical activity than people who don’t have a dog. So they get more exercise naturally. On top of this, research strongly suggests that oxytocin (released by being with your dog) has metabolic effects that can help people who struggle to keep the weight off. Lower body weight can have a dramatic effect on improving your blood pressure and cardiovascular health. Pets can also be good for you if you already have heart problem. Studies show that people with serious abnormal heart rhythms who own dogs, live longer than people with the same heart problems who don’t have dogs. Bravo, dogs!
Whoever said you can’t buy happiness, forgot about puppies. Petting your dog or cat helps your body release oxytocin that is known to reduce stress. This is no small thing to heart health when you consider the toll that stress takes on the body. It’s not just the walks and the Frisbee catching; canines seem to understand us in a way that no other animal does. They’re our true companions.
Social Magnets and Increased Self-Esteem
Did you know that pets are consummate matchmakers? They motivate us to play, be affectionate, seek adventure and be loyal. It might be the oxytocin that induces feeling of optimism and increased self-esteem. Sometimes, they help us break barriers to interact with another person and start a conversation. What thoughtful pets, right? Many women have said that if they saw you walking down the street, they couldn’t comfortably start talking with you if they didn’t know you. But if you have a dog with you, they could. Is it possible that dogs can make eye contact? Who knows.
Better Mood, More Meaning, Anti-Depressant Effects
People with pets are generally happier, more trusting, and less lonely than those who don’t have pets. They also visit the doctor less often for minor problems. One reason may be the release of oxytocin that has been shown to be effective in treating people with clinical depression and even anxiety disorders. Pets gives you a sense of belonging and meaning. They also help you to feel like you have greater control of your life.
Loneliness can’t be a good thing, either from a cardiovascular or a psychological perspective. Luckily, a pet is certainly a great friend. After a difficult day, pet owners quite literally feel the love. Through the magic of oxytocin or other means, everyone who cares about their blood pressure and heart health should have a dog or cat! If you are in a living situation where you can’t have one, find someone who has a pet and ask if you can walk it or just pet it.
Ever since the Science Magazine report came, out, there have been scores of excellent articles (e.g. The Guardian: Dogs are man’s best friend thanks to bonding hormone, research shows), Tweets and blogs regarding how oxytocin mediates the extremely strong dog to human bond. But as we’ve seen, there is more to the story. The dog to human bond also has a very positive impact on heart health and lower blood pressure.