Dog owners: Less heart disease and longer life?

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A canine companion provides unconditional love and encourages extra exercise. Could those benefits explain why dog owners are less likely to die of heart disease than people without dogs? Maybe, say the authors of the largest-ever study of dog ownership and human health, published online Nov. 17, 2017, by Scientific Reports.

The 12-year study included over 3.4 million Swedish adults ages 40 to 80. Using data from national health sources and dog ownership registries, researchers found that dog owners had a lower risk of death due to heart disease.

This benefit was especially evident in people who lived alone. Single dog owners had an 11% lower risk of having a heart attack and a 33% lower risk of dying during the study compared with single people who didn't own dogs. Dogs may ease stress, loneliness, and depression and inspire people to be more active and socially connected — all things that seem to foster heart health.

Other reasons might explain the findings, however. People who have the resources, time, and physical ability to care for a dog might have characteristics that contribute to their personal health and longevity, the authors note.

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