We have always strived to learn the secrets to living longer. One of the secrets appears to be the companionship of man’s best friend.
A study conducted in Sweden has recognized a link between owning a dog and reduced risk of early death. The study involved 3.4 million Swedes aged 40 – 80 found there was a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease or other conditions linked to early death among those people who owned a dog.
The large study was made possible to be carried out in Sweden for two mains reasons. First, anyone who owned a dog must register it officially and, second, all visits to the hospital and treatments are accurately recorded. This made is possible to compare national databased for dog ownership with those for hospital visits covering the periods between 2001 – 2012.
Researchers found a marked reduction in the number of early deaths among dog owning households in their study, especially from cardiovascular disease (CVD), which is the leading cause of death worldwide. In Addition, they found the risk of early death from cardiovascular disease and other causes was reduced by up to a third among people who lived alone if they owned a dog.
Details found the a Swedish databased even enabled them to pinpoint specific types of dog which seemed to have a more beneficial effect. Owners of breeds that traditionally hunt, such as terriers, retrievers and scene hound, appeared to have the lowest risk of early deaths.
It would be possible to duplicate the study in the USA, because it is not compulsory to register dog ownership here, but there is nothing to suggest that its conclusions would not be replicated. The conclusion is that dog owners are more active, because they have to take their pets on walks at least once a day, some breeds can even require more than once a day. So, there are several well-proven health benefits of remaining active and taking regular exercise. Even the evidence about different breeds seems to back this up, as hunting breeds require more walks because they are more energetic than other types of dogs, such as lapdogs.
People may already be active and choosing to own a dog, rather than the dog forcing them to become active, but in either case there is a link between dog ownership and regular physical activity
However, there might be more to the health benefits of dog ownership than physical activity alone. The Swedish study found particularly pronounced benefits for single people and since they are unlikely to all be exercising more than dog owners in multiple households, there must be something else going on. The researchers speculated that the companionship of owning a dog could alleviate psychological stress factors for single people, such as social isolation, depression and loneliness.
All these factors have previously been linked to increased risk of early death from CVD and other causes. It isn’t just that the dog is providing companionship in the home; it also means the dog owner is likely to get out and about more, meeting and interacting with other people, especially other dog walkers. There is also evidence that owning a dog helps people to recover and rehabilitate more quickly following an accident or medical procedure.
There could also be another link between dog ownership and more robust health, operating at a microscopic level. Dog owners have been found to have a different “microbiome” to non-dog owners, the “microbiome” being the collection of microscopic species which live in a person’s gut. This is because the dust and household dirt in a dog owner’s home environment is influenced by the dog, and low-level exposure to these additional bacteria can help a dog owner’s immune system become generally more resistant to infection and disease.
Senior author of the Swedish study, Tove Fall, said while it did demonstrate a link between dog ownership and reduced risk of early death, it did not set out to prove causes for that link. More specific work would be needed in order to do that. He also acknowledged that rather than dogs causing a healthy lifestyle among their owners, it could be that people who already favored a healthy lifestyle chose to own dogs as part of it.
Reacting to the study, Dr Mike Knap ton, from the British Heart Foundation, said previous studies had already shown a link between owning a dog and having a reduced risk of heart disease, but never on such a large scale as the Swedish study.
“Dog ownership has many benefits and we may now be able to count better heart health as one of them,” he said. “Whether you’re a dog owner or not, keeping active is a great way to improve your heart health.”
Source: Acorn Stairlifts