Owning a Dog Could Help Extend Your Life, Two Studies Find
Researchers in Sweden and Canada find dog owners have reduced risk of death
Two separate studies in Canada and Sweden have found that owning a dog could help to extend a person's life, according to reports.
According to the Swedish researchers, older people who live alone are a third less likely to die after suffering from a heart attack if they have a furry friend at home.
It has long been known that loneliness plays a key role to the detriment of older people in the US.
Researchers in America have found that loneliness not only hinders people from living happy lives but is often increases their risk of death and chronic illnesses.
The American Heart Association (AHA) released a statement regarding the recent Swedish and Canadian studies, noting that while it's not exactly proof that dogs will keep you healthier, the data is pretty good evidence that having a canine companion is beneficial for older people.
"While these non-randomized studies cannot 'prove' that adopting or owning a dog directly leads to reduced mortality, these robust findings are certainly at least suggestive of this," said the AHA's writing group chair, Dr. Glenn Levine.
In fact, he and the AHA put out a statement in 2013 summarizing all the various ways and research that has suggested that owning pets is good for your heart, according to the Daily Mail.
For the latest pair of studies to drive home that point, the researchers used the national patient registry to track people who suffered heart attacks and strokes.
In the first, study, they looked at data on virtually everyone between the ages of 40 and 85 who had been hospitalized after a heart attack or stroke between 2001 and 2012.
Of those, almost 155,000 had had a stroke - and five percent of those owned a dog.
Nearly 182,000 had had a stroke.
Heart attack patients who lived alone were hospitalized for a heart attack, then came home to a dog were 33 percent less at-risk of dying after returning.
That reduction was actually more significant than even cohabitating with people.
Those who lived with a partner or children were only 15 percent less likely to die after a heart attack.
Similarly, stroke survivors were more likely to keep surviving, if they had a dog.
After a stroke, people were 27 percent less at risk of dying if they owned a dog, but only 12 percent less at-risk if their partner or children was living with them.
In a second study, University of Toronto researchers looked at data on over 3.8 million people, documented in 10 prior studies.
Their findings suggested even more robust benefits of dog ownership.
Man's best friend was linked to a 24 percent lower risk of death by any cause, a 65 percent lower risk of dying after a heart attack and 31 percent less probability of dying of any cardiovascular cause.
That's not surprising when you consider that previous studies, too, have documented the lower cholesterol and blood pressure profiles of dog owners and the share amount of time they spend being physically active on the animal's behalf.
Dogs are supposed to get between 30 minutes and two hours of exercise a day.
That's significantly more than the 150 minutes a week that is recommended for humans, so it stands to reason that those with pets would have a more athletic physique.
Much of the benefit of a dog is more mental than physical.
About 40 percent of older Americans report periods of feeling isolated and alone.
And a dog is one way to combat that.
"We know that social isolation is a strong risk factor for worse health outcomes and premature death," said Dr. Tove Fall, an Uppsala University professor and study co-author.
"Previous studies have indicated that dog owners experience less social isolation and have more interaction with other people.
"Furthermore, keeping a dog is a good motivation for physical activity, which is an important factor in rehabilitation and mental health."
As strong as its links to better health are, Dr. Tove had a rather measured take on what to do with this information.
"More research is needed to confirm a causal relationship and giving recommendations about prescribing dogs for prevention," said the study authors.
"Moreover, from an animal welfare perspective, dogs should only be acquired by people who feel they have the capacity and knowledge to give the pet a good life."