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How Dogs Protect Our Hearts

Regular followers of the iFootpath blog, will know that I am often singing the praises of our canine pals. Who can blame me? Dogs are wonderful walking companions and you don’t have to look far to find scientific studies that show the many health benefits of dog ownership. The latest paper comes from Sweden, revealing how dog owners have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease…

The study covered 3.4 million Swedes over a 12-year period, with the cardiovascular health of people aged 40 to 80 compared between dog owners and non-dog owners. Dog owners accounted for 13% of the people studied. This data is readily available as dog ownership registration has been mandatory in Sweden since 2001 and every visit to a hospital is also recorded in national databases. It is thought to be the largest investigation of associations of dog ownership and human health reported anywhere in the world.

sunset woman dog walking outlineResearchers found that dog ownership had a particularly dramatic effect on people who live alone, cutting the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 36%. In households with more people under the same roof, dogs had a less dramatic impact, but still lowered deaths from heart disease by 15%, the work reveals. In addition, the researchers compared dog breeds. Their results revealed that dogs originally bred for hunting — such as terriers, retrievers and scent hounds — were associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

Although the new findings don't explain how dogs protect humans from cardiovascular disease, dog owners tend to have a higher level of physical activity, an increased level of well-being and more social contacts, the study said. Owning a dog could also change the type of bacteria found in a person's home, skin and body, which could impact his or her health, the researchers said.

The researchers admit that one key limitation of the study is that people who have dogs may already be healthier than non-dog owners, meaning the dogs do not create the health benefits initially. For example, people who buy hunting dogs may be more physically active in the first place, because the dogs are known to require so much exercise. The relationship may work both ways though, with livelier dogs effectively demanding that their owners do not slip into an overly-sedentary lifestyle.

Certainly, the findings ring true in my case. What I do know is that since owning a dog, I no longer feel as though going for a walk is a luxury I have to justify. Our dog needs her daily walk and so daily walking is what we do. And if that involves chatting to other dog owners to keep me socially active and breathing in the natural surroundings of the woods to keep me balanced – then so be it!

7 December 2017
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The length of our walking guides is given in miles and rounded to the nearest full mile (whole number) for simplicity. For short walks (of less than 2 miles) or walks that have a length that ends in .5, a more accurate walk length may be given in the first section of the walk introduction. For example, the Length in the header may be listed as 6 miles, and the introduction may confirm that the exact length of the walk is 5.5 miles. The walk length is calculated from the GPS file that was created by the walk author GPS tracking the walk whilst walking, using the iFootpath App GPS Tracker, meaning it is very accurate. Our bespoke tracker is particularly detailed and plots a walkers position about every 10 seconds. The tracker is calibrated to match two other reputable map and walking sources, Ordnance Survey and Nike. As with all standardised walk and map lengths, the distance does not take account of hills and slopes, just the distance you would measure using a piece of string on a flat map version of the terrain, so hilly walks will feel longer than stated. If you track the route using another GPS App or Tracker App or Fitness Device, you can expect the distance you record to be different due to different calibrations. This is particularly true of those Apps and devices that count your motion and steps – these can only guess the distance you have travelled with each step and so are much less accurate.

Grade (Boots)

The grade of a walk is an indicator of how difficult the terrain is that you will encounter along the way. This does not take into account the walk length but does suggest how challenging the walk will be. It takes into account things like hills, path surfaces and obstacles (like stiles, gates, steps and rock scrambles). An easy walk, graded as 1 (and shown as 1 Boot) indicates a walk that is essentially flat, has no sharp hills to climb, has no stiles, is easy to navigate (probably along a well-worn path) and is suitable for most levels of fitness. A difficult walk, graded as 5 (and represented by 5 Boots) indicates a walk that is strenuous and involves steep ascents and/or descents. It may be technically challenging involving difficult terrain or obstacles that require scrambling with your hands. Please note that the grading for walks is subjective and open to interpretation and should only be used as a guide when selecting a walk.

NOTE: Do be aware that the level of stamina required for any walk will vary depending on both the walk length and the difficulty grade - you should only walk within your limits.

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