6 Reasons Why Dog Owners Gain Extra Years of Life

6 Reasons Why Dog Owners Gain Extra Years of Life
6 Reasons Why Dog Owners Gain Extra Years of Life (Photo: Artem Beliaikin/Unsplash)

Although the connection between dog ownership and well-being is not new, recent evidence reveals the various ways our furry friends can be allies in helping us stay healthy as we age.

+ Viewing photos of cute dogs improves mental health, suggests a study
+ Woman has leg amputated after being attacked by dogs
+ Hilarious Video: Dogs Dance Wildly, With or Without Music

Read on to discover six of their most powerful longevity benefits:

1. Dog Owners Are More Active

The link between taking care of a dog and being more physically active is no surprise to Glenn Levine, a cardiologist and lead author of a scientific statement from the American Heart Association (AHA) that linked dog ownership to a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases.

This is because most people who own a dog regularly take them for walks, and “increased physical activity is clearly beneficial to cardiovascular risk and cardiovascular health,” he said in an interview with Well And Good.

This increased activity helps people reach the recommended goal of 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, this advantage of having a dog does not extend to those who opt for the “backyard ambling” exercise plan for their pups.

Still, even the regular need to bend down to pick up toys helps increase squat mobility and strength, which can create functional stability throughout the lower body and core.

2. Having a Dog Can Lead to a Healthier Heart

Many studies have explored the impact of dog ownership on cardiovascular health. More recently, a meta-analysis published in the scientific journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes found that owning a dog is associated with a 17% lower risk of death, especially deaths caused by cardiovascular diseases, which were considered 20% less likely.

3. Dog Owners Have Better Cognitive Health

A recent study that tracked the well-being of a group of pet owners over several years found a link between having dogs and improved cognition.

While for most people, cognitive function declines with age, dog owners increased their cognitive abilities, as measured in two tests: the Boston Naming Test, which assesses language, and the Digit Symbol Substitution Test, which correlates with a person’s ability to perform everyday tasks.

What surprised Erika Friedmann, the study’s lead author, was that there was no significant difference in cognitive changes between people who walked their dogs and those who did not. Although this suggests once again that the benefits of having a dog go beyond extra exercise, more studies are needed to confirm this.

4. Interacting with a Dog Reduces Stress

Ever wondered why you feel calmer after petting a dog? That’s because simple interaction with a dog activates the parasympathetic nervous system, reducing stress and increasing the sense of relaxation.

“It is not implausible to speculate that people who own dogs have one more companion, are less lonely if they’re living single, probably have less anxiety. We know dogs are a good ‘treatment’ for acute stress,” explained Dr. Levine.

This corroborates the heart health benefits that dogs can offer, although “negative psychological health is associated with increased cardiovascular risk, on the flip side, positive psychological health is associated with better cardiovascular risk,” he added.

5. Dogs Are Motivators for Self-Care and Healthy Routines

Daily dog care routines, including feeding, walking, and care, provide structure and a sense of purpose, which is important for mental well-being, especially as we age.

However, dogs are more than just companions. For Levine, the sense of responsibility we feel towards our pets can inspire us to take better care of ourselves, encouraging us to adopt healthier habits, such as smoking less, addressing health issues, attending regular medical check-ups, and undergoing routine health screenings.

6. Having a Dog Can Create a Stronger Social Life

According to experts, walking with dogs opens doors to a better social life, improving connections with other people and reducing isolation.

In a 10-day experiment conducted in the UK, a study participant had three times as many interactions on days when accompanied by a dog (who was not seeking attention) compared to days when she did activities on her own.

When it came to striking up conversations with strangers, the dog’s presence changed the game, leading to 65 interactions in five days, compared to just three without the dog.

While experts discourage adopting dogs solely for health benefits, Dr. Friedmann emphasized the importance of allowing older people to keep their dogs for as long as possible, for example, by designing elderly communities that accommodate dogs, providing assistance such as dog walkers, and ensuring the safety and well-being of dogs when their owners are hospitalized.

According to her, such an approach could go a long way in keeping dog owners healthier and happier for longer.

Back to top