Most pet people know intuitively that pets are good for us. We feel better in the presence of an animal. The stresses of our day seem less daunting with a cat purring in our lap and a dog at our feet. Scientists Karen Allen, Barbara E. Shykoff and Joseph L. Izzo, Jr. decided to study the interaction between people and pets to determine if the pet effect is real or simply a placebo. They studied 48 stock brokers who suffered from hypertension (high blood pressure). All of the participants were placed on the drug lisinopril (ACE inhibitor) and then divided into two groups, the first group adopted a pet while the second remained petless. The lisinopril decreased resting heart rate and blood pressure in both groups equally.
The big difference occurred when the two groups were asked to give a speech and solve math problems to induce stress. While blood pressure and heart rate increased in both groups during the exercises, the group with pets had better results. Their heart rate and blood pressure increased less than the group without pets and returned to resting levels more quickly. The authors concluded, “ACE inhibitor therapy alone lowers resting blood pressure, whereas increased social support through pet ownership lowers blood pressure response to mental stress.” (‘Pet Ownership, but Not ACE Inhibitor Therapy, Blunts Home Blood Pressure Responses to Mental Stress’, Hypertension. 2001;38:815-820.)
If you want to improve your blood pressure and heart rate, get a pet! There are many wonderful animals waiting at shelters to help you improve your health.