Anyone who has a dog will tell you how much love, laughter and happiness they can bring to life. But, while it's well-known that our four-legged friends can really benefit mental health – combatting loneliness and reducing stress – did you know that they can also improve their owner's physical health, too?
A study of 3.4 million Swedes found dog owners to have a lower mortality rate – or, to be specific, a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes – than any other participants.
The team analysed national registries for people aged 40 to 80, and compared them to dog ownership registers. It was found that single dog owners had a 33% reduction in risk of death and 11% reduction in risk of heart attack when compared to single non-owners. Additionally, it was concluded that people with dogs from hunting breeds – such as terriers, retrievers and scent hounds – had an even greater level of longevity.
Not only does owning a dog keep you physically active- undoubtedly a major factor behind these findings, but, the authors say, having a pet pooch can also impact a person's microbiome by exposing them to bacteria they may not otherwise have encountered. On top of this – as mentioned above – having a pet dog may also promote longevity by increasing an individual's social contact and overall wellbeing.
However, Tove Fall – senior author of the study – said there were some limitations to the research.
"These kind of epidemiological studies look for associations in large populations but do not provide answers on whether and how dogs could protect from cardiovascular disease."
"There might also be differences between owners and non-owners already before buying a dog, which could have influenced our results, such as those people choosing to get a dog tending to be more active and of better health."
Also commenting on the findings was Dr Mike Knapton of the British Heart Foundation. Speaking to The BBC, he said:
"Dog ownership has many benefits, and we may now be able to count better heart health as one of them… However, as many dog owners may agree, the main reason for owning a dog is the sheer joy."
"Whether you're a dog owner or not, keeping active is a great way to help improve your heart health."
The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.
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