Pets Can Lower Blood Pressure
Feeling stressed? Get a pet! Companionship with a dog or cat can tame the “stress response” that leads to high blood pressure, according to a study presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions.
Researchers studied 48 male and female stockbrokers who were using medication to control high blood pressure. The stockbrokers who owned a pet were only half as likely as those without a pet to experience a rise in blood pressure under stress.
The results are similar to many previous studies that have found it is beneficial to be with a pet when you’re under stress. But this study went a step further by evaluating blood pressure under conditions of stress, which provided an objective measurement of the impact of having pets.
The researchers tried to reproduce a stressful situation to mimic the everyday stresses that stockbrokers typically face. They caused stress for the subjects by asking them to count backwards rapidly and to give a five-minute speech to talk their way out of a shoplifting charge. In response to stress, their average blood pressure shot up to 184/129 mm Hg. (Blood pressure over 140/90 mm Hg is considered “high.”)
The stockbrokers then received medication for high blood pressure, and half the subjects agreed to get a cat or dog for a pet. Six months later, the researchers performed additional stress tests. Those who took the medication but had no pet experienced a rise in blood pressure that was much lower than the original test—because they had started taking antihypertensive medication. But stockbrokers who took medication and owned pets had a blood pressure level that was only half the level of the non-pet owners. These subjects were allowed to have their pet with them when they took the test.
The results came as no surprise to the researchers, who noticed that the pet owners had developed strong bonds with their animals. After the study, many people in the medication-only group decided to get pets of their own.
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