As if there weren't enough reasons to love animals, a new scientific statement published in the American Heart Association (AHA) journal Circulation just added one more to the list: there may be a link between having a pet and having a lower risk of heart disease.

"Numerous studies have explored the relationship between pet (primarily dog or cat) ownership and [cardiovascular disease], with many reporting beneficial effects, including increased physical activity, favorable lipid profiles, lower systemic blood pressure, improved autonomic tone, diminished sympathetic responses to stress, and improved survival after an acute coronary syndrome," the statement says. "Pet ownership is an important nonhuman form of social support and may provide cardioprotective benefits in patients with established CVD."

The studies, however, are not definitive, the AHA said in a press release. They don't necessarily prove that owning a pet directly causes a reduction in the risk for heart disease. Baylor College of Medicine professor Glenn Levine, who chaired the committee that wrote the scientific statement, said it may simply be that people with pets have a healthier lifestyle than people without pets. For example, according to the AHA, studies show that dog ownership in particular is associated with reduced cardiovascular risk, likely because dogs need to be walked every day, forcing a dog owner to exercise.

Further research on the topic is warranted, Levine said in the AHA press release. He also cautions that people shouldn't go out and adopt pets solely to lower their cardiovascular risk.

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