Dog owners are more likely to exercise and they’re also more likely to have better heart health, a new study shows.
A heart’s best friend
Humans have co-evolved with dogs for tens of thousands of years. Over the course of our common history, both we and our canine friends have changed quite a bit — and our relationship has also shifted. Most often, dog owners nowadays walk their pets a couple of times a day, which means they are more physically active and, consequently, have better health.
This idea has been confirmed in a new study.
The study traced health metrics from 1,700 people participating in the Kardiozive Brno 2030 study, which followed 1% of the population in the city of Brno, Czech Republic. The study analyzed various measures related to cardiovascular health: body mass index, diet, physical activity, smoking status, blood pressure, blood glucose, and total cholesterol. The study also compared pet ownership with the measured health metrics.
All pet ownership was linked to better cardiovascular health, but the results were most noticeable for dog owners.
Study co-author Andrea Maugeri, a researcher with the International Clinical Research Center at St. Anne’s University Hospital in Brno and Italy’s University of Catania, commented in a statement:
“In general, people who owned any pet were more likely to report more physical activity, better diet and blood sugar at ideal level.”
As more and more people are suffering from cardiovascular diseases, pet ownership can be an important and beneficial intervention.
Surprisingly, the data also found that dog owners are more likely to be smokers, which overshadows the positive effects associated with dog ownership — although this might be skewed by cultural factors, as smoking is quite prevalent in the Czech Republic.
This isn’t the first study to conclude that dog ownership improves cardiovascular and mental health. A landmark study from Sweden analyzed the effects of dog ownership on a nationwide cohort of 3,432,153 individuals, with 12 years of follow-up. The benefits were especially impressive for single-person households, where dog ownership was associated with lower risks of both all-cause mortality and CVD mortality (33% and 36% reductions, respectively). People living in multiple-person households also benefited from dog ownership with significantly lower risks of all-cause mortality and CVD mortality (11% and 15% reductions, respectively).
However, there’s an important question here: do dogs make owners healthier, or are healthier people more likely to adopt a dog in the first place? The answer to that question isn’t entirely clear, but the evidence seems to support the former, says Jose Medina-Inojosa, M.D., one of the study authors. Furthermore, one recent study published last year in the journal BMC Psychiatry looking at 17 existing papers concluded that having a pet could ease symptoms of mental illness.
In other words, if you’re on the fence about adopting a furry friend, you can add “improving health” to the list of advantages.
The study was published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.