You’ve heard it said, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”, but you may not have heard “A dog is good for your health.” Some people think dog ownership means dog hair on the sofa, veterinarian bills, and an extra mouth to feed, but recent medical research may change that way of thinking. Research has shown a number of surprising health benefits of dog ownership, especially in older adults.
Dog ownership is good for your heart.
Studies show that owning a dog reduces blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, three factors that contribute to heart health. In addition, for those who have had a heart attack, studies show that dog owners have higher recovery rates.
The largest study of the health benefits of dog ownership followed the health records of more than 3.4 million people in Sweden for 12 years. The study, published in Scientific Reports
, showed that owning a dog is linked to a longer life, especially for people who live alone. Dog owners were found to have a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease and from other causes than people who did not own a dog.
Typically, older adults who live alone have a higher risk for early death than those who live with other people, but the study found that those who lived alone with a dog had a 33% reduced risk of death, and an 11% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
Dog owners make fewer visits to the doctor.
Pet owners over the age of 65 have been shown to seek medical help almost 30% less than older adults without pets. A Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
study found that pet owners on Medicare “reported fewer doctor contacts over the 1-year period than respondents who did not own pets.”
Dog ownership increases physical activity.
Dog owners spend more time outdoors and are more active. A study in the journal Gerontologist
found that older adults who walked dogs had “lower body mass index, fewer activities of daily living limitations, fewer doctor visits, and more frequent moderate and vigorous exercise.” A dog has to be walked even in bad weather, so there’s no excuses.
Some owners may be limited in their ability to go for long walks around the neighborhood or in the park, but many fun activities can be done at home to keep both owner and dog active.