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2019: Heart Health - A Dog Could Be Your Heart's Best Friend

Not only are dogs loving and accepting, they're also good for heart health. Natural stress reducers and instigators of physical activity, dogs are an investment in your overall health.

Dr. Russell Silverman, Medical Cardiologist & Director of St. Joseph's Physicians Cardiology, discusses how dogs are good for you.
2019: Heart Health - A Dog Could Be Your Heart's Best Friend
Russell Silverman, MD
Dr. Russell Silverman is a cardiologist in East Syracuse, New York and is affiliated with St. Joseph's Hospital Health Center. He received his medical degree from State University of New York Upstate Medical University and has been in practice for more than 20 years. He is one of 46 doctors at St. Joseph's Hospital Health Center who specialize in Cardiology.

Learn more about Russell Silverman, MD

Bill Klaproth (Host): If you are suffering from high blood pressure or stress; some say forget the pills, get a pet. National studies have long shown that there are many health benefits of dog ownership. Here to talk about how a dog could be your best friend when it comes to your heart health is Dr. Russell Silverman, a cardiologist at St. Joseph’s Health. Dr. Silverman, thank you so much for your time. So, why are dogs so good for our heart health?

Russell Silverman, MD (Guest): Dogs actually serve a number of purposes besides being loving pets and always forgiving. They provide us with friendship. They provide us with activity. They provide us with love and help to provide reduced stress in our lives, just by being present. They get us out of the house and get us walking around, although walking a dog may not be the best exercise in the world, it is certainly socially, usually a good event and just getting outside, the dog can be very helpful in that regard.

Host: So, is there a science behind this Dr. Silverman? Do dogs release certain important chemicals in our bodies? I’m just curious, is there science behind this? Do we know this?

Dr. Silverman: We don’t look at the chemicals necessarily, although we do know that the presence of a dog or other pets, but specifically dogs in the household, can lower blood pressure, can actually cause a reduction in cholesterol, maybe by the exercise benefit. There are American Heart studies showing that dog ownership, pet ownership is maybe associated with decreased risk of heart disease. How that has been determined is in noncontrolled studies, but it is noted at least that pets do reduce the incidence of cardiac events and whether that is because of a reduction in blood pressure which is a risk factor for heart disease, or other causes, is unknown. Certainly, stress reduction is a benefit to treating heart disease and simply by reducing the level of adrenaline in your bloodstream or epinephrine which is associated with stress; may actually reduce blood pressure and maybe that is part of the way that pets reduce heart disease.

It’s interesting, when you talk to people who have obstructive sleep apnea which aggravates coronary disease and other vascular diseases; a lot of them have dogs and the pet frequently wakes up the person in the middle of the night and the person thinks that the dog is waking them up to go outside and do their business. But in a lot of the patients that I have spoken with; who have dogs that have woken them up at night when these patients are diagnosed with sleep apnea and actually had their apnea treated; the dog sleeps all night and doesn’t wake them up anymore. So, it’s my deduction that the dog is actually helping them breathe, to get them to breathe because it recognizes that they have stopped breathing. So, that has not been studied. That is my personal observation, but it’s interesting to note that I think the dog would rather sleep all night than get up and go outside.

Host: So, it’s easy to see the health benefits of dogs. That’s really great information. And what about socially, I imagine getting out with your dog can promote social interaction, which we all know is healthy. Is that right Dr. Silverman?

Dr. Silverman: It’s very important to be socially active and having a pet and if you are going to be responsible with your pet; you take the dog out for a walk and you run into your neighbors, you have conversations and end up getting invited to watch a ballgame or come over for dinner and interacting with people where when a person loses a spouse or a significant other or loved one and they have a pet; they maybe run the risk of becoming homebound. But having the dog, actually promotes social wellbeing. You go to a park with your dog, you sit and talk to people. The dogs run around, you go home, and you make a habit of that. Walking your dog is a good way to get out into the fresh air. It may not be the best exercise because the dog, unless you are going to go running with your dog; but the dog stops and sniffs and looks around and this and that and so you are not really having any sustained exercise, but you are having interactions with other people.

Host: It’s really important and sometimes you may overlook the health benefits of just being outside and walking and meeting the neighbor and talking and you certainly have a commonality, you each have dogs or pets. So, you can certainly connect on that level as well. So, do dogs improve people’s mood just by the nature of that when you get home that dog is so excited to see you. I mean how can that not put you in a good mood, right?

Dr. Silverman: Absolutely, it’s wonderful for the psyche and it’s not clear whether that type of behavior prolongs your life; but it certainly makes your life better. And it gives you a reason for being. If you have lost things in your life and you have a pet; that’s what you look forward to going home to. And so, the dog or any pet, but particularly the dog in this case, serves as a reason for being, got to take care of the animal, the animal takes care of you in return and it becomes a mutual admiration society of sorts.

Host: That reason for being is so important too especially as you get older in life and you say if you unfortunately may have lost a loved one; having to take care of that dog, feed the dog, take the dog out, it does give you that reason for living. I read a story about a daughter that got her elderly father a dog after the mother had passed away and she saw a complete difference in her father after getting the dog. And it did give him more pep in the step and she really felt that it did improve his life and extend his life as well.

Dr. Silverman: You know having the dog, you should not have the expectation that a dog is going to offset any unhealthy lifestyles, smoking, drinking, things like that, consuming too much alcohol. But I know taking on the responsibility of a pet as you said, as we have said, gives you almost a reason for being and may make you recognize some of the shortfalls that you are experiencing and basically get you off the couch. So, you can’t make that statement too strong that the dog is going to save your life; but in some cases, it may very well, and they provide a lot of psychological, sociological and physiologic benefits which is exercise, and meeting people and just getting out of your four walls that you may be stuck in.

Host: Absolutely. And that’s very true. Just getting out of the house sometimes is a health benefit. Dr. Silverman, is there anything else we should know about the health benefits of owning a dog?

Dr. Silverman: The health benefits I think have been pretty much spoken about. They can lower blood pressure, they can help lower cholesterol and just give you a better outlook on life. Dogs are always forgiving, and they will never stop loving you and you can’t say that about everything that you come in contact with in your life. But certainly, a pet will stand by you forever. So, they provide you with great companionship.

Host: Absolutely. Well that’s a great place to leave it right now Dr. Silverman. Thank you so much for your time and for more information please visit, that’s This is St. Joseph’s Health MedCast from St. Joseph’s health. I’m Bill Klaproth. Thanks for listening.