Why Dog Ownership Can Mean Living Longer and Healthier

Much research in recent years concludes that owning a dog is good for your health. And now a new study finds people who own a pooch may live longer – another good reason for considering a dog as  “man’s best friend.”

Dog ownership is associated with a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, alleviating social isolation and improving one’s overall perception of well being, according to a recent study published in Scientific Reports, a Sweden-based scientific and medical journal. The Swedish researchers studied more than 3.4 million adults, ages 40 to 80, over a 12-year period, the largest study to-date on the topic of dogs’ influence on humans’ health.

Dog ownership is especially helpful to people who live alone, the study found. The adults studied who lived alone were found to have a 33 percent lower risk of death, and were 11 percent less likely to be at risk of cardiovascular disease, when compared to those who lived alone without a dog. Dogs can provide a form of social support, particularly to single people and the elderly, the Swedish researchers say.

Dog Ownership and Physical Activity

While the study was not intended to show cause and effect of dog ownership, nor can data collected allow the scientists to claim that having a dog will conclusively prolong a person’s life, the research found that dog owners are more likely to be physically active – an attribute that benefits both the dog and the dog owner.

Earlier this year, Time magazine cited a research study that showed “older dog owners take 2,760 more steps per day on average compared to non-owners.” Prolonged walking can lower a person’s risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and improve emotional health as well, other studies have found.

Owners of dogs from a hunting breed, such as terriers, beagles and Labrador retrievers, were found to have the lowest risk of cardiovascular disease, according to the Swedish study. This is likely because these dogs need more physical activity, prompting the people who take care of them to get more exercise than non-dog owners, the researchers said.

Jennifer Young, M.D., an internal medicine physician with Baptist Health Primary Care, says owning a dog and walking him or her can help reach the American Heart Association’s recommendation of getting 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise.

“It’s just a wonderful thing to be able to go outside with your dog, walk and move your body without really realizing that you’re exercising,” Dr. Young said. “I’d call this a prescription for health.

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