According to their study published in the journal Nature and based on following more than 3 million individuals over 12 years, dog ownership was associated with lower cardiovascular and all-cause mortality in the general population. The study noted that owners of hunting dog breeds had a significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease—perhaps because those breeds tend to need more exercise. Hunting dog breeds include terriers, hounds and retrievers.
In fact, the researchers theorized that other conditions related to owning a dog might have accounted for the positive outcomes:
- Owning a dog alleviates social isolation, depression and loneliness. These factors have been linked to increased risk of coronary heart disease, cardiovascular death and all-cause mortality.
- Dogs have a positive effect on blood pressure, allowing for a faster recovery of blood pressure (for the owner) following stressful activity.
- Dog owners spend more time engaged in outdoor activities and are more active overall.
I can attest to this last point. I use an activity tracker so can see real data daily about how active I am. In addition to doing yoga and taking spin classes, I walk my dogs. A lot. On average, I’m spending 60 minutes (a slow day, maybe it’s raining out) to 132 minutes each day walking my dogs Oscar and Sadie. Again, this is in addition to the aforementioned structured exercise that I do for myself. Interestingly, both of my dogs have hunting dog in them—a doggie DNA test uncovered that they are both hound mixes.
“The results showed that single dog owners had a 33% reduction in risk of death and 11% reduction in risk of heart attack,” compared to single non-owners, says lead study author Mwenya Mubanga of Uppsala University in a BBC interview. “Perhaps a dog may stand in as an important family member in the single households.”
Another theory about dog ownership and increased longevity: their affect on our immune system. A CNN article about this study noted that with dogs bringing dirt into the home and licking us, they could be introducing “good” bacteria that could be keeping us healthy.
This notion of how a dog could be good for your heart is not new. Researchers have been studying the connection for decades. However, what is noteworthy about this Swedish study is its sheer volume: More than 3 million people over 12 years is a sizable sample.
Of course, you shouldn’t get a dog just to improve your heart health, especially if your lifestyle won’t support being able to spend time with the dog and give it the exercise it needs. However, if you’ve been on the fence about dog ownership, this could be the tipping point that you’ve been waiting for to jump on Petfinder.com and finally find a furry companion.