It’s Official: Dog Owners Live Longer, Healthier Lives

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In case you need another reason to snuggle your pup: According to a new study of more than 3.4 million people, owning a dog is linked to a longer life. The research, published in Scientific Reports, is the latest in a growing body of research suggesting that canine companions may be good for human health—especially for people who live alone.

To study the link between dogs and longevity, researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden reviewed national registry records of Swedish men and women, ages 40 to 80. They focused on 3.4 million people who had no history of cardiovascular disease in 2001, and followed their health records—as well as whether they registered as a dog owner—for about 12 years. Dog ownership registries are mandatory in Sweden, and every visit to a hospital is recorded in a national database.

They found that dog owners had a lower risk of death due to cardiovascular disease than people who did not report owning a dog, as well as a lower risk of death from other causes. That was true even after adjusting for factors such as smoking, body mass index and socioeconomic status.  

The protective effect was especially prominent for people living alone, who have been found to have a higher risk for early death than those who live with other people. People who lived alone with a dog had a 33% reduced risk of death, and an 11% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, than people who lived alone without a dog.

Improve heart health

Dogs don’t just fill your heart; they actually make it stronger. Studies show that having a canine companion is linked to lower blood pressure, reduced cholesterol, and decreased triglyceride levels, which contribute to better overall cardiovascular health and fewer heart attacks. What’s more, dog owners who do have heart attacks have better survival rates following the events.

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Keep you fit and active

Health experts recommend that adults get about 2 hours and 30 minutes worth of moderate exercise per week. Dog owners are way more likely to hit that goal. “People love to be outside to walk their dog, and be with their dog. It helps them become more active.

 Help you lose weight

Want to drop a few pounds? Research has repeatedly found that daily dog walks help you lose weight, since they force you to into moderate physical activity for 10, 20, and even 30 minutes at a time. Participants considered it a responsibility to the dog, rather than exercise.

Improve your social life

As we age, it becomes harder to get out and meet people. Not so for dog owners. Researchers have found that about 40 percent make friends more easily, possibly because the vast majority—4 in 5, according to one British study—speak with other dog owners during walks.

Reduce stress

There’s a reason therapy dogs are so effective: Spending just a few minutes with a pet can lower anxiety and blood pressure, and increase levels of serotonin and dopamine, two neurochemicals that play big roles in calm and wellbeing. People performing stressful tasks do better when there’s a dog around, too, and studies show dogs ease tension both at the office and between married couples.

Stave off depression

It’s widely believed that dog owners are less prone to depression than the dog-less, largely because they seem to help in so many other areas of health and wellbeing. The truth is somewhat more complicated. Though there’s evidence that certain dog owners—including isolated elderly women and HIV-positive men—suffer less from depression than those without pets, there’s also proof that dogs don’t do much for other demographics.
That said, therapy dogs—animals that do not stay in your home—have been shown to be effective in easing depression for a variety of people, old and young, sick and healthy.

Reducing Cardiovascular Risk

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for 45% of all deaths (>4 million) in Europe in 2016. Dogs may be beneficial in reducing cardiovascular risk by providing a non-human form of social support and increasing physical activity. Dog ownership has been reported to be associated with alleviation of social isolation and improved perception of wellbeing, particularly in single persons and the elderly. A meta-analysis of eleven observational studies found that dog owners walked more and were more physically active than non-owners. Two studies assessing changes in physical activity after acquisition of a dog or other pet found increased self-reported recreational walking. A recent study showed that dog ownership also supports the maintenance of physical activity during poor weather.