After a long, stressful day, there’s nothing more soothing than cuddling up the couch with a warm, purring cat on your lap. Cat lovers know that being around our feline friends makes us feel good, but science has proven that owning a cat can lead to physical changes in your body, improving your blood pressure and even making your heart healthier.
Many studies have looked at the benefits of pet ownership, including the mental and physical health benefits of living with a dog or cat. It’s amazing but true: The simple act of petting a cat—or even just sharing your home with a cat—is not only calming, it can lower your blood pressure and boost your overall heart health.
Owning Cats Reduces Your Risk of Dying From Cardiovascular Disease
In 2009, a decades-long study was published in the Journal of Vascular and Interventional Neurology that demonstrated that cat owners were less likely to die from heart attacks, cardiovascular disease, and stroke when compared to people who did not own cats.
The study adjusted for different risk factors like the person’s age, gender, ethnicity, blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol, and body mass index, to focus on cat ownership.
The research revealed that study participants who owned cats had a much lower risk of dying due to heart attack when compared to people who did not own cats.
That’s a pretty incredible finding!
There was even more great news for former cat owners. People who used to own cats in the past, but did not currently live with a cat, still had less risk of death due to cardiovascular diseases when compared to people who had never owned cats in their life.
Owning a Pet Lowers Blood Pressure
A 2001 study published in the journal Hypertension revealed that pet ownership lowers blood pressure.
The 48 study participants all had high-stress jobs. The participants were randomized into two experimental groups. All participants had hypertension and received the ACE inhibitor blood pressure medication lisinopril, but only half of the participants owned pets.
Each day, the study participants’ blood pressure, heart rate, and plasma renin activity were recorded, both at baseline and after “mental stressors” (tasks designed to be mentally stressful).
This study was interesting because it showed that although the drug lisinopril lowered resting blood pressure for all the participants, owning pets lowered blood pressure response to mental stress, something that the drug alone could not do.
An Abundance of Research
The aforementioned scientific studies are just two of many investigations into the link between pet ownership and a healthy heart.
In fact, so many studies have been undertaken on this topic that the American Heart Association published a Scientific Statement to “critically assess the data regarding the influence of pet ownership on the presence and reduction of cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors and CVD risk.”
A few highlights from the AHA’s Scientific Statement include:
- A 1992 Australian study that analyzed 5,741 people who attended a free screening clinic found that people who owned pets had significantly lower systolic blood pressures than people who did not own any pets, even though all of the study participants had a similar body mass index (BMI) and socioeconomic background.
- A 2002 study of 240 married couples found that both systolic and diastolic blood pressures were significantly lower in those people who owned a dog or cat when compared to people who did not own any pets.
- A 2003 study of 102 post–myocardial infarction (heart attack) patients showed that patients who owned either dogs or cats had significantly higher heart rate variability than patients who didn’t own any pets. According to the AHA, higher heart rate variability has been associated with decreased risk of cardiac death among these types of patients.
Love Your Cat With All Your Heart
Knowing that your cat can improve your heart health may give you a bigger appreciation for your feline friend. Life with cats is full of endless hours of snuggles, laughs, and joy. The fact that science tells us owning a pet is also good for your health is just icing on the cake.