Does Pet Ownership Promote Heart Health?

DogHealthBy Lynne T. Braun, PhD, CNP

Many people who own pets treat them like family members. Pets are thought to provide joy, comfort and stress relief, alleviate sadness, and give their owners unconditional love. Some hospitals, including Rush University Medical Centerallow family pets to visit their hospitalized owners if certain requirements are met.

Teams of specially trained “comfort dogs” visited and provided comfort to the survivors of the Oklahoma tornadoes, Boston marathon bombings and Sandy Hill school shootings. But what do we know about pets and the health of their owners? In particular, does pet ownership promote heart health?

The answer is probably yes. The American Heart Association recently published a scientific statement on pet ownership and risk for cardiovascular disease. This statement reviewed the results of research on pet ownership and high blood pressure, cholesterol, physical activity, obesity and even survival. Although some studies are conflicting, most show the following:

Continue reading

Happy, Healthy Hearts

Second in a series of posts recognizing American Heart Month

By Lynne Braun

Have you noticed that people who have a positive attitude and are generally happy are much easier to spend time with? Have you noticed that when you are happy, you accomplish more, things seem to go your way, and you generally feel better?

A couple of recent studies found that people who are happy and optimistic have less heart disease. These were individuals who are generally positive about life and see the glass as half full instead of half empty. In the most recent study, higher levels of life satisfaction were associated with a 13 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease. Satisfaction with one’s job, family, sex and self seemed to be the most important for heart disease protection. Continue reading

The ❤ in Heart Month

This is the first in a series of posts recognizing American Heart Month.

By Megan Marz

Don’t have plans yet for this Feb. 14? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers the following suggestion: “Make a date with your heart! February is American Heart Month, and Valentine’s Day is a great time to start taking steps to be heart-healthy.” As employees of an institution focused on improving people’s health, we can’t argue with this advice. But it made us wonder: Why does Valentine’s Day, that candy-filled, Cupid-kissed holiday, seem particularly heart-friendly to the CDC? Put another way, why does the organ that pumps our blood bring to mind love and romance?

The Heart as a Symbol

Exploring the origins of such symbolism, the cultural historian Ole M. Høystad points out that love is only one of many emotions the heart represents:

“We talk about being light-hearted, being sick at heart, not having the heart to do something, of losing our heart,” he writes. “… We can find something heartbreaking and have our heart in our mouths; the heart can be squeezed, broken or crushed because we have been struck to the heart. And that the heart has something to do with the intellect can be seen from the expression ‘to learn by heart.’”

According to Høystad’s A History of the Heart, the organ has had such powerful associations since the beginning of recorded history: At a crucial point in the 4,000-year-old Epic of Gilgamesh, the eponymous hero offers a heart to the gods. Among all the internal organs, ancient Egyptians replaced only the heart before sealing back up an embalmed corpse and wrapping it in linen. Aristotle saw the heart as the origin of the other organs and the seat of the soul. Continue reading