If you’re a dog lover, here’s some health news that you can rejoice over. While research finds that owning a pet of any kind contributes to better health, it’s owning a dog that will help you live a longer life.
Of course, I’m not trying to insult cat owners, but when it comes to pet ownership the research into human longevity is strongest for dog people.
One of the biggest studies of the anti-aging benefits of owning a dog took place in Sweden and involved more than 3.4 million people aged 40 to 80. The 12-year analysis found that dog owners had a lower risk of death from heart disease or any other cause than non-dog owners.1
As researcher NwenyaMubanga points out, “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.”
During the twelve years of research, dog owners who lived alone enjoyed a 33 percent reduction in risk of death from all causes and an 11 percent reduction in risk of myocardial infarction, or heart attack, compared to single people who didn’t own a dog.
Conversations With Dogs
Dr. Mubanga believes one reason for the longevity benefits of dogs may be the close relationship people have with their furry friends. He suggests “perhaps a dog may stand in as an important family member in the single households.”
If you’re a dog lover, or a pet lover of any kind, then you know that your animals aren’t just “stand-ins” for family members, they are family members in their own right. Researchers in Hungary have explored humans’ relationship with dogs and discovered that when you talk to your dog, your dog does understand your mood by reading the emotional tone of your voice.2
Anyone with a misbehaving dog can attest to this. Whether your puppy destroyed your shoe or relieved himself on the floor, they immediately appear downcast when you say their name and point out the trouble.
The emotional connection pet owners have with their furry, feathery or even scaly friends clearly runs deep, and most certainly improves a person’s mental well-being, which in turn can lower stress, anxiety and blood pressure.
Dr. Mubanga also reported that “Another interesting finding was that owners of dogs from breed groups originally bred for hunting (larger dogs) were most protected (from dying during the research).”
Walk Your Dog, Walk Yourself
The researchers propose that having a dog of any kind means you engage in extra physical activity when you care for and walk your dog. When it comes to larger breeds, many need more outside time to run and play, which means you’re spending more time outside, too.
Researchers also believe that dog ownership may increase your opportunities for social contact, whether you strike up a conversation with another dog owner during a walk, at a dog park or even at the vet’s office.
Plus, it turns out dog germs may be good for you! Research shows that interactions with a dog are thought to improve the probiotic (beneficial) bacteria that live on your skin and inside your body.
Additional research bears out a number of these insights.
Dogs Help Their Humans Get Exercise in Bad Weather
Although many people have issues with getting motivated to exercise or even go on a walk in the colder months, researchers in England discovered that dogs help folks overcome these barriers to getting outside for activity.
“We were amazed to find that dog walkers were on average more physically active and spent less time sitting on the coldest, wettest, and darkest days than non-dog owners did on long, warm summer days,” says researcher Andy Jones. “The size of the difference we observed between these groups was much larger than we typically find for interventions such as group physical activity sessions that are often used to help people remain active.”3
Dogs also help relieve the stress of medical emergencies. A study in Canada found that spending ten minutes with a therapy dog (in this case a four-year-old springer spaniel named Murphy) makes patients in an emergency room feel more comfortable, less distressed and happier while waiting for emergency care in a hospital.4
Perhaps that’s one reason we see so many therapy dogs today. Whether they’re used for emotional support or to prevent seizures or diabetic comas, therapy dogs are helping patients of all ages manage a host of health problems.
Owning Pets is Linked to Better Heart Health, Better Blood Sugar
If you’re still not a dog lover despite reading this research, perhaps you’ll consider a pet of another kind. Research in Italy shows that all pet ownership is linked to improvements in cardiovascular risk factors and an overall improvement in mental health.5
Although, dog lovers still came out on top in this research, too. “The greatest benefits from having a pet were for those who owned a dog, independent of their age, sex and education level,” says Italian researcher Andrea Maugeri.
I’m sure everybody knows the old saying that a dog is man’s (or woman’s) best friend. Well, according to these studies, it’s not just because they’re loyal. It appears their loving friendship and the time we spend caring for them can help us live a longer life. Pretty evident that as we get older, that type of relationship is invaluable.