Research has consistently shown that dog ownership improves human health and longevity. Now, a huge study in Sweden provides definitive proof! The project followed 3.4 million people over a period of four years. Those who took part were aged 40 to 80.
Dog Ownership and Loneliness
The study showed that dog ownership had the greatest beneficial effect on those living alone, reducing the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by a massive 36%. That number fell to 15% for those not living alone but is still significant.
Last month, the leader of Britain’s GPs, Helen Stokes-Lampard, warned that loneliness was as bad for human health as a long-term illness. Lonely people are 50% more likely to die prematurely than those living in families or benefitting from a good social network. It appears that dogs can neutralise many of the effects of living alone. People who live alone are not necessarily lonely but the Swedish research suggests that they will still live longer with a dog in their lives.
Hunting Dogs and Health
The study has not explained why dog owners are healthier but previous research has shown that dogs relieve stress and lead people to take more exercise. The exercise is clearly highly significant as the study did look at the influence of individual breeds. Those owning dogs bred for hunting such as retrievers and spaniels has the lowest risk of cardiovascular disease. If you want to live longer, a cocker spaniel would be an excellent investment!
Dogs and Exercise
Hunting dogs force their owners to lead a more active life as these breeds require so much exercise. But it is likely that it is more active and healthy people who choose these dogs in the first place. This is a good old-fashioned chicken and egg scenario! Whatever the truth of the matter, the owners of hunting dogs are highly unlikely to slip into a sedentary lifestyle.
The researchers running the Swedish study do not believe that the health benefits of dog ownership are confined to the pets’ effect on the amount of exercise their owners take. They believe that the dogs’ impact on loneliness is equally important. Dogs are great friends to have around the house but also promote social interaction when owners walk them.
Dogs and Microbes
It is also possible that dogs in the home could influence the microbes which are present in the human body. These could also have a beneficial impact on health. Previous research has shown that pet dogs reduce the risk of childhood asthma by 15%. Living in an environment which is too clean can lead to allergies.
Further studies are required to get to the bottom of exactly why dog ownership is so beneficial to human health. We can now be sure that dog owners enjoy better health but we don’t really know why. Are the dogs improving people’s health or is it healthier people who choose to have dogs? It is important to get to the bottom of this conundrum and it will require a large and detailed study to reveal the truth.