There are many benefits living with a dog, including companionship, unconditional love and increased exercise. But it gets even better. A new study published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, a journal of the American Heart Association, finds that owning a dog can extend your lifespan.
“We demonstrated that people who have a dog live longer as compared to those who do not,” says Caroline K. Kramer, endocrinologist and clinician-scientist at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. “The results were robust and suggest a positive impact of dogs to prolong lives.”
Kramer and her team looked at the association of dog ownership and decreased mortality, regardless of risks such as cardiovascular disease, by identifying studies published between 1950 and May 24, 2019.
They found that having a dog lowered mortality rates by 24 percent. For people who had heart disease or a previous heart attack, the risk of death is lowered even more to 31 percent. Considering the CDC findings that 610,000 people die of heart disease in the US every year (which is nearly 1 in every 4 deaths), and that women are 10 times more likely to die from heart disease than breast cancer or a stroke, this is a significant finding.
Some of the reasons for this good news is probably apparent to dog lovers. “Taking into consideration previous reports, it is possibly due to the positive impact of dog companionship on cardiovascular risk factors,” says Kramer. “People who have a dog tend to be more physically active, have lower blood pressure levels and better lipid profile.”
For those who are not endocrinologists, a lipid profile is a panel of blood tests that measures the amount of cholesterol and fats called triglycerides in the blood. High numbers of these lipids may clog arteries and increase the risk of heart disease.
To get in the physical activity part, you only have to walk your dog 20 to 30 minutes every day to meet the American Heart Association’s recommended 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic exercise — as long as your walks are faster (around 2.5 miles an hour) than a stroll. If that seems like a lot, you can break it up into 5 or 10 minutes of brisk walking a few times a day. Your dog will also approve!
Additionally, dogs have other great effects on their humans — mentally, physically and emotionally. “There are reports demonstrating that having a dog can help with symptoms of depression, loneliness and provide significant emotional support,” notes Kramer.
Other studies conducted on the benefits of having a dog have shown that living with a dog can improve symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorders, says Kramer. For example, dogs have helped many veterans by alerting them to panic attacks and triggers in the environment as well as providing unconditional love and helping PTSD sufferers relearn how to feel safe in the world again.
Kramer, who owns a dog, warns that before jumping on the dog bandwagon, you must be prepared to fulfill a pup’s needs, including enough attention, healthy food and the ability to provide appropriate veterinarian care — which can add up.
But if a dog can help you live longer and have a more fulfilling life, it’s totally worth the investment.