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Owning a pet—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, dog owners 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 own 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 owners or that dog owners exercise more. Pets’ social support of their owners may also help owners adopt healthy behaviors.