A man’s best friend, indeed. Owning a dog might be helping people live longer and lead healthier lives, a new study finds.
According to the report by Swedish publication Scientific Reports published on Friday, November 17, dogs help reduce the risk of having the cardiovascular disease by providing their owners with social support, companionship and promoting more physical activity.
Researchers followed more than 3.4 million Swedish adults, ages 40 through 80, over a 12-year period to investigate their health in comparison with non-owners. The study, done at the Uppsala University in Sweden, says that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the world and having a canine companion will reduce the risk of having the disease since dogs provide a form of non-human support — especially for the elderly and single people. For dog owners who live alone, their risk of a death caused by cardiovascular disease decreases by 36 percent and their overall risk of death decreases by 33 percent.
“A very interesting finding in our study was that dog ownership was especially prominent as a protective factor in persons living alone, which is a group reported previously to be at higher risk of cardiovascular disease and death than those living in a multi-person household,” Mwenya Mubanga, an author of the study and a Ph.D. student at the Department of Medical Sciences and the Science for Life Laboratory at the university, said in a statement.
The study also says that having a dog increases people’s motivation to be more active and add more physical activity into their lives, especially in single-person households where the individuals are solely responsible for walking and exercising with their pets.
“We know that dog owners, in general, have a higher level of physical activity, which could be one explanation to the observed results. Other explanations include an increased well-being and social contacts or effects of the dog on the bacterial microbiome in the owner,” says Tove Fall, a senior author of the study and associate professor at Uppsala.
Another finding was that owners of dogs from breed groups originally bred for hunting were the ones most protected, so dogs in the retriever, terrier, and scent hound families are the ones that may provide the most benefit.
“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. Thanks to the population-based design, our results are generalizable to the Swedish population, and probably also to other European populations with similar culture regarding dog ownership,” Fall concluded in the statement.
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