The world’s population can be divided into three groups: people who have a dog, people who want to get a dog and bad people. Dogs are excellent – anyone who isn’t a bad person intuitively knows that – and now science has backed it up with research showing that people who own a pooch typically live longer.
A study of 3.4 million Swedes found that dog owners had a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, with the effect being particularly pronounced for dog owners who lived alone. Single dog owners were 33% less likely to die during the follow-up period of the study, and 11% less likely to suffer a heart attack, than single non-owners.
The data in the study was collected from people aged 40 to 80 who had no history of cardiovascular disease in 2001, with the follow-up period lasting 12 years.
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We presume the main reason behind the boost in health for dog owners is “dogs are great”. But the authors of the study attempted to clarify the reasons further.
“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 increased wellbeing and social contacts or effects of the dog on the bacterial microbiome in the owner,” says Tove Fall, senior author of the study and associate professor in epidemiology at Uppsala University.
Dogs can change their owner’s microbiome (the microscopic species that live in the gut) by changing the bacteria they are exposed to around the house – seemingly for the better. So stop cursing the dirt your pooch drags in from a walk – it might be good for you.
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The research found that people who owned dogs originally bred for hunting, such as retrievers, terriers and scent hounds, had the lowest risk of cardiovascular disease.
This was only an observational study, so it didn’t prove any link between dog ownership and a lower risk of death from heart disease. And there are also factors that could influence the results, such as people who are already more active being more likely to get a dog (especially a hunting dog, which requires lots of exercise).
But let’s not allows such trifles to stand in the way of the point – if you don’t have a dog, get a dog. And if you do have a dog, well done, now get another. Preferably a retriever.