Want a Longer Life? Get a Dog, Study Says

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Fall believes that while their study provides strong evidence for the health benefits of dogs, their work is not done yet, since it does not answer why dogs achieve these results or why specific breeds seems to offer more protection. Other explanations include effects of the dog on the bacterial microbiome in the owner, for example. The results of the study were published for the first time in Scientific Reports.

Of the millions of Swedes' whose health records were analyzed, 13% owned canines, and of those, the dog owners between 40 and 80 years old tended to live longer than those in a similar age group who did not own dogs.

The scientists followed 3.4 million people over the course of 12 years and found that adults who live alone and owned a dog were 33 percent less likely to die during the study than adults who lived alone without dogs. Dog ownership has also been linked to elevated parasympathetic and diminished sympathetic nervous system activity, lower reactivity to stress and faster recovery of blood pressure after a stressful activity. The investment, though, may be worth it. Dog ownership, new research shows, is a form of natural insurance offering health and longevity, along with the affection of an animal companion. Even more interesting: Owners of breeds like terriers, retrievers and scent hounds were even less likely to develop heart disease.

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The risk of death fell by 11 percent in households with multiple people. As a result, the researchers posit, dog owners went out more and had added more social interaction than those without dogs.

While it makes sense that owning a dog may encourage physical activity, and previous studies has shown that to be true, researchers say it's also possible that more active people choose to own dogs.

"Dog ownership was especially prominent as a protective factor in persons living alone, which is a group reported previously to be at higher risk of cardiovascular disease and death than those living in a multi-person household", Mwenya Mubanga, a Ph.D. student at Uppsala University in Uppsala, Sweden, and the lead junior author of the study, said in a statement announcing its findings. "Our observational study can not provide evidence for a causal effect of dog ownership on cardiovascular disease or mortality", they write. (Might not get that one past the institutional review board.) But in the meantime, we'll take this association as further proof that dogs are the best and that's the end of the story.

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