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dog walking in blue harness

Sharing your life with an animal—especially a dog—may be associated with lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and can have a positive effect on the body’s reactions to stress, according to a recent American Heart Association scientific statement, which reviewed previous studies on the influence of pets. In one study of 5,200 Japanese adults, for example, those with dogs were 54 percent more likely to get the recommended amount of physical activity and engaged in significantly more walking and physical activity than those who didn’t have dogs.

Several factors may be at play in such heart-healthy relationships, says the AHA, including the possibility that healthier people are more likely to be pet guardians or those with dogs exercise more. Pets’ social support of their guardians may also help those with pets adopt healthy behaviors.