Americans are constantly looking for new solutions to improve health and well-being and solve troublesome health problems — and given the reality of American physical health statistics, this is not surprising. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 70 percent of adults in the United States are overweight or obese, and just 51 percent meet the recommended 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week.

Excess weight can have a negative impact on heart health, often leading to chronic low-grade systemic inflammation, which is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD). CVD is the number one killer of American adults, claiming about 800,000 lives each year.

Eating nutritious foods and moving more have long been the keys to reliable, sustained weight loss and healthy weight maintenance, but now scientists are acknowledging another way to improve our health you might not have expected: pets. If adopting a pet can ease even a small part of the problem, it would be tremendous boon for society — and there is a growing consensus that it can.

The first study to find a link between companion animals and heart health was published in 1980 by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania. They shared their findings documenting an association between pet ownership and a significant decrease in mortality in the year following a heart attack or chest pain episode.

Additional studies have shown that people who have pets may have healthier cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and less extreme reactions to stress than people who don’t. One study found that cat owners have a 30 percent lower risk of heart attack compared to non-cat owners, probably because they help reduce stress and blood pressure.

In 2013, the American Heart Association (AHA) issued a scientific statement reviewing all studies to date and concluding that pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, is “probably associated” with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. And it’s not just science that is reflecting these insights back to us; it’s also the stories of real people whose health improved thanks to rescuing a pet.

For example, Eric O’Grey weighed 340 pounds and was diagnosed with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and Type 2 Diabetes. His doctor told him he had five years to live. Then he met a shelter dog named Peety who changed everything. He adopted Peety and they began walking — and eventually running — everywhere together. Eric lost 150 pounds and reversed all his health problems.

Even those who aren’t ready to adopt can benefit from time with a pet. Shelters all over the country are constantly in need of foster homes for homeless animals. And if you’re ready to incorporate more movement in your life, one great way to impact your own health while also helping local shelters is to participate in a Doggy Day Out. These outings help shelter dogs burn off pent up energy while also getting both of you moving. Take a walk or a hike, visit a pet-friendly restaurant, or explore a dog-friendly nature preserve in your area.

When you interact with a pet, molecules of oxytocin click into the receptors embedded deep in your chest and work their magic slowing your heart rate, relaxing your blood vessels, and lowering your blood pressure — all of which help protect your heart, that pulsing structure that keeps you alive. An adoring dog or cat isn’t guaranteed to inspire you to take better care of your health, but there are millions of people around the world to vouch for the fact that it can. Adopt, foster, or volunteer with a homeless pet and discover this for yourself!

Author's Bio: 

Carol Novello is the founder of Mutual Rescue™ and author of “Mutual Rescue: How Adopting a Homeless Animal Can Save You, Too” (Grand Central Publishing, April 2019). Mutual Rescue is a national initiative that highlights the connection between people and pets in order to inspire and support life-saving efforts in communities across the nation and world. Mutual Rescue’s first short film, “Eric & Peety,” went viral around the globe and has been viewed more than 100 million times. For more information, visit