Man’s best friend is also his best elixir of life.
Ok, ok — dogs don’t make us immortal. But new research does offer strong evidence that dogs really do help us live longer.
Scientists say that dog ownership is associated with a 24% drop in all causes of death, and for people who’d previously had a heart attack or stroke, having a dog reduced their risk of dying by an even larger margin. The findings come from two separate studies publish this month in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, a journal published by the American Heart Association.
The first report was a study of more than 300,000 Swedish residents between the ages of 40 and 85 who’d experienced a heart attack or stroke, comparing those who had dogs with those who did not. The scientists found that for adults living alone, owning a dog reduced the risk of death by 33% after a heart attack and 27% after a stroke. Dogs also reduced the risk of dying for those living with a partner, just at a smaller margin.
The second was a meta-analysis, in which scientists reviewed patient data for more than 3.8 million people from 10 separate studies. That study also found strong benefits of dog ownership for people who’d experienced a heart attack or stroke. But it also found dogs can add to your years even if you’re haven’t had cardiovascular issues.
It’s important to note that neither study proves owning a dog leads directly to reduced risk of death. It could be that people who own dog could also have some other attributes scientists can’t capture in their observations.
Yet previous studies have shown that good boys are good for your heart health. Owning a dog is correlated to lower blood pressure, and it generally increases physical activity and decreases depression and loneliness.
“As such, the findings that people who owned dogs lived longer and their risk for cardiovascular death was also lower are somewhat expected,” says Caroline Kramer, a co-author of the meta-analysis who’s also an assistant professor in the division of endocrinology and metabolism at the University of Toronto.
Of course, dogs — or really, any pet — can be expensive. Food, vaccinations, veterinary bills, and pet-sitting when you head out of town add up (and that’s before you get into luxury pet expenses). Yet now that we know pups are basically vitamins that will help us live longer and happier lives, you can budget that spending as form of self-care that’s worth every penny.
So tell your mom, your husband, your roommate: You don’t just want a dog. You need one. For your health.