For those who have been dreaming of welcoming a dog into their homes for years, new research published by the American Heart Association might be the nudge they need to actually adopt a new family member from a local shelter. A meta-analysis of data compiled from four million pet owners in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Scandinavia suggests that owning a dog can actually extend your lifeline and improve cardiovascular health, especially if you've already suffered a heart attack or stroke.
The meta-analysis, published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, found that looking after a dog offered a 24 percent decreased risk of death overall. Owning a dog also offered upwards of a 65 percent reduction in risk of death for those who had already suffered a heart attack in particular. "Having a dog was associated with increased physical exercise, lower blood pressure levels and [a] better cholesterol profile in previous reports," Dr. Caroline Kramer, an endocrinologist at Mount Sinai Hospital and a professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, wrote in a press release about the new research.
But the meta-analysis isn't the only evidence that suggests canine ownership is good for your holistic health; a separate study involving 336,000 Swedish participants—some with pups, others without—also measured the same effect on those with pre-existing heart health issues. It found that the risk of death for those who lived alone, in particular, saw a 33 percent reduction in further heart attacks—if they were looking after a pup. Stroke patients living alone with their dogs also had a 27 percent lower risk of death compared to those who didn't own a pooch.
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The second study also found that individuals with a spouse or children saw a similar reduction in their mortality risks if they, too, looked after a dog at home. Both pieces of research point to the fact that dog owners are much more physically active than non-dog owners as a cause for heart-health boost; simply taking a dog on multiple daily walks and playing with them at home can boost overall health. Moreover, the American Heart Association also notes that the love that a dog provides its owners can drastically reduce loneliness and depression, which might explain why those who live alone see the greatest reduction in their mortality rates.
This isn't the first time that scholars have commented on dogs' ability to boost our holistic health. A recent Mayo Clinic-backed study found that dog owners were more likely to exercise, eat well, and sustain healthy blood sugar levels compared to those who don't own dogs. Last year, the National Poll on Healthy Aging revealed that nearly 50 percent of seniors, on average, own a pet, and upwards of 80 percent said that their furry friends reduced their stress overall. With more than 2,000 Americans surveyed between the ages of 50 and 80, 72 percent of senior pet parents also said that their companions also helped them cope with physical or emotional symptoms working against their health.
"We know that social isolation is a strong risk factor for worse health outcomes and premature death. Previous studies have indicated that dog owners experience less social isolation and have more interaction with other people," Tove Fall, a professor at Uppsala University in Sweden, shared in the AHA's statement. "Furthermore, keeping a dog is a good motivation for physical activity, which is an important factor in rehabilitation and mental health."