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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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