Owning a Dog Could Help People Live Longer

13. Similar Results from All Over the World Here comes a Canadian study! This one found that dog owners participate in around 300 minutes per week… Trista - December 31, 2019
More walks equals a healthier lifestyle. Shutterstock

13. Similar Results from All Over the World

Here comes a Canadian study! This one found that dog owners participate in around 300 minutes per week walking compared to 168 minutes for non-owners. It seems that having a dog alone is what accounts for so much extra exercise.

Moving to the States, another study was undertaken by the California Health Interview Survey. This study also controlled for factors such as sociodemographic, health, and housing characteristics. The one significant finding from this study is that dog owners walked around 20 minutes more per week than those who never owned a dog. Sadly, no other research has shown that having different types of animals increases your physical activity. It seems that because walking a dog is part of their upkeep, it almost forces dog owners to be more active by nature than those who either own no pets or own less active pets.

More physical activity with your pup means a better heart rate. Shutterstock

14. News from Down Under About Owning Dogs

Studies have also looked at whether activity levels change after a pet has been acquired. Several studies have shown that, after adopting a dog or a cat from an animal shelter, participants have shown a marked and sustained increase in the number and duration of recreational walks but found no change amongst those who did not adopt an animal from the shelter.

An Australian study undertaken by the Residential Environments project discovered that participants reported an increase in recreational walking if they owned a dog: walking increased by an average of about 25 minutes per week. The biggest reason for the increase in walking? Dogs seem to have a positive effect on how owners view walking as well as provide motivation and social support that non-owners do not benefit from these things.

Obesity is a real problem. Shutterstock

15. Obesity Related to Dog Ownership

As we have just discussed, physical activity is one way that pet owners can prevent and decrease the incidence of obesity. The other component, also only touched upon, is the social support that comes with owning a dog. Surprisingly enough, social support is one of the leading factors that contribute to pet adoption and behavioral changes, which includes weight loss. Having a dog has the motivating power to get people out of the house and moving because they know that this is best for their pets. Many pet owners have reported feeling safer in their neighborhoods, having a dog to walk with them.

While dog ownership alone does not account for a decrease in obesity, dog walking does! A study looking at around 2200 people found that BMI scores were lowest amongst dog walkers compared to both owners who did not walk their dogs and non-owners. Those who walked their dogs also seemed to have no problem meeting the daily recommendations for vigorous physical activity.

Not having a pet could lead to less exercise. Shutterstock

16. Walking Your Dog Can Help You Lose Weight

Another study showed that people who did not own a dog had a two-fold higher odds of having weight issues, and those who did not walk their dogs had a 60% higher odds of being overweight compared to dog owners who took the time to walk their pet every day. In a study of younger children, the rate of obesity or being overweight seemed to be predictably lower among those families that owned a dog compared to a family who did not own a dog.

Yet another study was undertaken by the People and Pets Exercising Together (PPET) review. This study was trying to determine if people who walked their dogs lose more weight over one year compared to people who walk by themselves. Pairs of individuals who were obese and also had overweight pets and obese people without pets were under controlled study for a year. The participants were given dietary and physical activity instructions, and pets were placed on a calorie-controlled diet. Although they were hoping for a better outcome, it seems that both groups experienced similar weight loss.

The nerves in the heart can be significantly affected. Shutterstock

17. Autonomic Function and Cardiovascular Reactivity

The autonomic nervous system is tightly related to the heart: it helps to control heart rate as well as many other functions. Cardiovascular reactivity is a more complicated concept. This term refers to the difference in heart rate, blood pressure, and a slew of other indicators of heart health between periods of rest and periods of stress. Changes are often observed in heart rate and systolic blood pressure.

Cardiovascular reactivity to stress was tested in 240 couples; half of the participants owned either a cat or a dog. People with pets exhibited lower resting baseline heart rates and blood pressure as compared to non-owners. Pet owners also showed smaller increases in heart rate and blood pressure in response to stress and took a shorter amount of time to recover and return to their baseline after being exposed to a stressor. An exciting discovery was that recovery time was even faster if pet owners had their pets with them during the test; the overall reaction to stress was also lower if the animals were present.

Work stress can take its toll. Shutterstock

18. Can Owning a Dog Help Reduce Your Stress?

Another study looked at cardiovascular reactivity to mental stress. A total of 48 hypertensive patients with high-stress jobs who wished to decrease their daily stress participated in the study. Individuals were randomly assigned into two groups: a pet adoption group or a non-adoption group. Physiological responses to stress were recorded before pets were acquired, and six months after pet adoption. When testing was done, pets were present for those who owned them. Although the baseline of stress responses was similar between owners and non-owners, pet owners had smaller increases in systolic and diastolic blood pressure, heart rate, and plasma renin activity after six months of pet ownership.

This study measured heart rate variability with 24-hour Holter monitors to look at autonomic function. It was found that individuals with at least one cardiac risk factor and who owned a pet (either a cat or a dog) had an increase in parasympathetic nervous system function and a decrease in sympathetic nervous system activities. This highlights the effect had a pet has on the way the body handles stress; this shows that pet owners are more adaptable to changes in the cardiovascular system.

Caring for a pet can boost your heart health and, in turn, help prevent a heart attack. Shutterstock

19. Does Caring for a Pet Lower the Risk of a Heart Attack?

Another study looked at patients who had just suffered a heart attack. The study showed that those who did own a pet, whether it was a dog or a cat, had a higher rate of heart rate variability compared to non-owners. These findings have been associated with decreased cardiac death among patients.

It is worth making a note here about pet ownership. Although most of the studies discussed so far included only cats and dogs, research has shown that the same benefits apply to those who own other pets, including goats, snakes, fish, and chimpanzees. Virtual pets also seem to have some protective effect.

Heart disease is the number one killer. Shutterstock

20. Cardiovascular Disease and Dog Ownership

Cardiovascular disease encompasses many issues regarding the heart. It refers to conditions that narrow or block blood vessels that can then lead to a heart attack, chest pain, or stroke. It seems that pets may offer protective factors for those who suffer from CVD. It was shown in a study performed by the Cardiac Arrhythmia Suppression Trial that survival after a cardiovascular event was highly associated with owning a pet. Dog ownership correctly was shown to decrease mortality, with mortality for non-owners being four times more likely after an incident involving the heart. Sadly, cat owners did not receive the same benefits.

Another study looked at patients a year after suffering from either a heart attack or chest pain. It showed that pet owners survived more often than those who did not own a pet. The finding was independent of the patient’s age and severity of the cardiovascular disease. It seems that a lack of pet ownership can be predictive of mortality for those who suffer heart issues.

Tulane examined dog owners and their stress levels. Shutterstock

21. Who is Keith C. Ferdinand?

This professor at the Tulane University School of Medicine reported some interesting facts after these findings were announced. He declared that women are about ten times more likely than men to die from a heart attack or a stroke than they are from breast cancer. It would seem, then, that women have more to benefit from owning a dog than men do. The furry friends not only help with the physical side of things; they also help alleviate mental health issues as well. Dogs assist owners with managing stress, increasing activity, and decreasing isolation and loneliness.

He also noted that walking a dog 20 to 30 minutes a day will help individuals meet the weekly recommended activity level of 150 minutes of moderate exercise. Sadly, Ferdinand was not included in this latest study. He did warn against blindly following the results produced by these recent studies. He noted that dogs alone could not overcome the risk factors associated with the heart, such as high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, and smoking. He says the best combination for helping those with cardiovascular problems is to have an active dog and to work against cardiovascular risk factors actively.

Deaconess Medical Center has done some work. Shutterstock

22. Research by Dhruv Kazi

A cardiologist from Israel Deaconess Medical Center also had a few words to say about the findings just published. He believes that mental health benefits should not be overlooked: he reiterates that dogs alleviate anxiety and loneliness while increasing self-esteem and overall mood. He even mentions a finding unearthed by the 2018 General Social Survey, which determined that dog owners were significantly happier than cat owners.

Over and over again we have seen how having a dog increases physical activity–this is just common sense. But Kazi brings up other good points. Dog owners spend significantly more time outdoors than those who do not have a dog; spending time outside for whatever reason has been found to benefit your overall health. He notes that even merely petting a dog can decrease a person’s blood pressure; however, the benefits seem only to come about if the dog is familiar to you.

Having a pet can help you lose weight and reduce many health ailments. Shutterstock

23. Owning a Dog Boosts Longevity

The current literature does not entirely convince Kazi. He believes that the confounding factors of the individuals should have been accounted for. Kazi stated that dog owners tend to be younger, have more money, have more education, and are typically married. All of these factors tend to improve cardiovascular outcomes.

The results could have occurred since healthier people are more likely to adopt or purchase a pup compared to more impoverished and less fit individuals. Kazi also brings up the idea of reverse causation: the concept that healthier people are more likely to adopt a pet compared to someone who is always ill. Despite his reservations about the studies, he does believe that there is some truth to the connection between dog ownership and survival.

Careful examination is vital for good results. Shutterstock

24. Randomized Controlled Studies

These studies involve at least two groups of participants: in this case, those who are forced to adopt a dog and those that are not. One study in this category placed cardiac patients in either a pet adoption group or a non-owner group; the group that adopted a dog or a cat showed a decrease in blood pressure response due to a stressful event.

Another small study taken place in Korea randomly assigned nursing home residents to pet crickets and asked them to take care of the insect for a minimum of eight weeks. After this time, the insect caring group exhibited significant improvements in depression and cognitive ability compared to the group that did not care for crickets.

Results look promising, but they’re not always reliable. Shutterstock

25. Limitations with Dog Ownership

While the results from the Canadian and Swedish studies seem promising, we have to consider the boundaries of the studies used to produce such results. In particular, these results came about from observational studies, which is simply observing what is already naturally occurring. This idea means that these studies alone cannot be used to determine that dog ownership ensures survival.

It may be possible that other factors contributed to the health of the individuals under review. While these studies did account for some confounding factors, it was not possible to predict and control for all of them.

Much medical research takes places that Mayo Clinic. Shutterstock

26. An Important Mayo Clinic Study About Dog Ownership

This Mayo Clinic study looked at a total of 1800 individuals to determine what benefits dogs have for patients with cardiovascular problems. It found that those who owned a dog were more likely to engage in healthier lifestyle choices, such as regular exercise and eating healthy.

These individuals also had more favorable blood sugar levels compared to those who did not own a canine. The two may or may not be related, but the results of this particular test did reveal that owning a dog can help with many health ailments including blood sugar levels.

Just having a friend, even if they can’t talk, can improve your health. Shutterstock

27. National Poll On Healthy Aging

Another study was used to examine the mental health benefits of owning a dog. It looked specifically at older individuals, at a total of 2,000 adults between the ages of 50 and 80. More than half of participants owned pets; of those who owned pets, around 80% reported that their companions helped reduce their stress level. Pet owners who claimed to live alone and to be in poor health benefited as well: 70% of them stated that their animals helped them cope with both mental and physical symptoms.

Be warned though: pets, dogs especially, are hard work, and their care should not be taken lightly. Elderly individuals should only consider a dog if they are physically capable of keeping up with the demands of the pet.