If you need another reason to champion your love for dogs, take note: Your four-legged friend may help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
That’s according to a Swedish study that tracked 3.4 million Swedes over the course of 12 years. According to study findings, for people living alone, owning a dog can decrease the risk of cardiovascular-related death by 36 percent and decrease the risk of having a heart attack by 11 percent. For people in multi-person households, the risk of cardiovascular-related death was 15 percent lower.
Study authors wrote that their research cannot identify the causal effect of dog ownership on heart health, but it identifies a correlation. Julie Pope, director of heart and vascular care for Tidelands Health, says the relationship may be due to increased physical activity and lowered stress.
“Dog owners are more apt to engage in physical activity outside the home in order to allow their pets to exercise,” she says. “Social interaction with other pet owners could also attribute to lower stress levels.”
Because the study involved only Swedes, Pope says it’s difficult to say whether the results would apply to other countries due to differences in their populations and habits.
It’s also possible that healthier people tend to own dogs, since people with health problems may not want to assume the cost and responsibilities that come along with dog ownership.
Still, many other studies have also shown that owning a pet can have positive health benefits.
“Personally, my dog brings a sense of responsibility to provide care, exercise and love, which in turn keeps me more active and seems to reduce my stress levels,” Pope says.