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Pets may help cut heart disease risk: American Heart Association

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Anyone wanting to live longer and cut their risk of suffering from heart disease might want to consider getting a pet.

The American Heart Association (AHA) issued a scientific statement on Thursday saying owning a pet may help to decrease a person's risk of suffering from heart disease and is linked with lower levels of obesity, blood pressure and cholesterol.

"Pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, is probably associated with a decreased risk of heart disease," Glenn N. Levine, a professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, said in a statement.

A study of more than 5,200 adults, cited by the AHA, showed dog owners were more physically active than non-owners because they walk their pets. Other research has revealed the calming effects of pets, which are used in animal-assisted therapy programs.

Levine, the chairman of the committee that wrote the statement published online in the journal Circulation, added that the benefits are clear on cutting the risk factors for heart disease. But the studies are not definitive or prove that owning a pet directly causes a reduction in heart disease risk.

"What's less clear is whether the act of adopting or acquiring a pet could lead to a reduction in cardiovascular risk in those with pre-existing disease," he said, adding more research is needed.

About 78.2 million people in the United States own a dog and 86.4 million have a cat, according to figures from the American Pet Product Association 2011-2012 National Pet Owners Survey.

Research has shown that the loyalty and love pets display can reduce stress, anxiety, depression and loneliness in their owners and increase their sense of well-being and self-esteem.

(Reporting by Patricia Reaney; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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