Owning a dog can help your heart, study finds

PHOTO: In this undated file photo, a woman walks her Standard Poodle.PlayRyan J. Lane/Getty Images, FILE
WATCH Dog ownership associated with better heart health, study finds

Every day, the dogs need a walk. Every day, they're helping their owners' hearts in more ways than one.

According to a new study published by Mayo Clinic, people who own pets, but especially dogs, are more likely to have better heart health.

"It's nice to see that something we enjoy, like having a dog, is related to better heart health," Dr. Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, study author and chair of the Division of Preventative Cardiology at Mayo Clinic, told ABC News in an interview.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that "active people generally live longer and are at less risk for serious health problems like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and some cancers."

PHOTO: In this undated file photo, a women enjoys a morning run with her pet. Ryan J. Lane/Getty Images, FILE
In this undated file photo, a women enjoys a morning run with her pet.

If you're off the couch with your pet, that counts.

"It's very difficult not to increase the level of activity after you get a pet, in particular, a dog … It makes more sense … they move around. They force us to be active," Lopez-Jimenez says, noting that is vital to health. "Dog-ownership increases the well-being of an individual ... It helps improve people's physical activity, mood, social life, and diet."

Does that mean Wally, a black Russian terrier, is a kind of gym with fur? "I've had three dogs. And when I don't have a dog, I don't go outside as much," Rosemary Stallone, an office manager, sales consultant and mother, told ABC News in an interview. "I like going outside, but when you have a dog, it's much more scheduled. You have no choice."

Another author of the study, Dr. José Medina-Inojosa, agrees. "The behavior of that pet [a dog] is what gives the benefit. Can't walk a fish! And you ride the horse, not walk it," Medina-Inojosa, research associate of the Division of Preventative Cardiology, Mayo Clinic, told ABC News. "Dogs make us go out more often, at least once or twice a day, if not more. And usually more than a few minutes."

PHOTO: In this undated file photo, a woman gives her dog a kiss. Peter Muller/Getty Images, FILE
In this undated file photo, a woman gives her dog a kiss.

Sandhya Raghavan, a mother, retired home-maker and gardener, echoed Lopez-Jimenez's claims – but it's her spouse who's getting the benefit. "My husband takes our dog, [Callie the Collie], out for 45 minutes at least twice a day," she told ABC News in an interview. "It definitely helps with exercise ... with children – it's a two way thing. The dog runs around, the kids run around with it and vice versa. Helps keep them active, maybe more active."

"It also helps them emotionally. If they are upset they will shed a few tears with the dog," said Raghavan. "Our dog is a wealth for my emotional health. … she's always within a foot of me."

It's not just the exercise that improves health. According to Lopez-Jimenez, "studies have shown, owning a dog actually increases social life. People are more likely to talk to others who have dogs."

It doesn't stop there. "Dog owners are more likely to have healthier diets," Lopez-Jimenez said. "You have someone waiting for you. It increases well-being and improves moods. So those things may improve the diet."

"This study builds on other evidence that shows dog-owners are less likely to be depressed ... The heart findings just add that owning a dog may bring a lot of wellness," Lopez-Jimenez added. "Most dog owners will say, 'Wow, I knew there was something.' Some won't be surprised."

And don't discount unconditional affection. "I can't explain, it's a feeling of love only pet owners can understand," according to Raghavan.

PHOTO: In this undated file photo, a woman walks her Standard Poodle. Ryan J. Lane/Getty Images, FILE
In this undated file photo, a woman walks her Standard Poodle.

Kimberly Dike, M.D., is a senior internal medicine resident at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, working with ABC News Medical Unit.