Listen to “Research Says: Owning a Dog Improves your Health”.
According to a new study of more than 3.4 million people, owning a dog is linked to a longer life. The research, published in Scientific Reports, is the latest in a growing body of research suggesting that canine companions may be good for human health—especially for people who live alone.
People who lived alone with a dog had a 33% reduced risk of death, and an 11% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, than people who lived alone without a dog.
“It seems that a dog can be a substitute for living with other people in terms of reducing the risk of dying,” says Fall, an epidemiologist and the lead author of this latest study. “Dogs encourage you to walk, they provide social support, and they make life more meaningful. If you have a dog, you interact more with other people. If you do get ill and go into hospital and you have a dog, there’s a huge motivation to try to get back home.”
The key point is that having a dog keeps you more active. Walking your dog can help you meet the daily exercise requirements recommended by the government.
In a study of more than 5,200 Japanese adults, dog owners were 54% more likely to get the recommended physical activity than non-owners. This extra exercise may be why pet owners tend to have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Of course, getting a dog and watching it from your sofa while you eat fatty food is not going to reduce your risk of heart disease. And, while a toy dog may look cute, owning one won’t have much of an effect either. The study’s authors were surprised to find that people who owned dogs that were initially bred for hunting—like terriers, retrievers and scent hounds—were the most protected from heart disease and death. This is because these dogs typically need more exercise than other breeds, meaning their owners are more likely to meet physical activity guidelines.
Dogs also reduce stress and prevent loneliness. A pet can be a great companion, especially if you live alone.
Having a friendly face and wagging tail to come home to is an antidote for loneliness. For those who have dogs, the possibility that a dog might help physical and psychological health is self-evident.