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Dogs Can Help You Live Longer, Cats Might Too

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Oct. 11 2019, Updated 9:58 p.m. ET

It is a known fact that all dogs are good boys and girls that help with their hooman‘s mental wellbeing by reducing anxiety and loneliness-related depression; but that is not all. A new study published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation says that owning a dog make you live longer, too.

The authors examined the relationship between dog ownership and mortality by reviewing several decades’ worth of previously published literature – some of which showed a benefit to owning a dog, some which did not.

After looking at 10 studies involving 3.8 million participants in total, the scholars concluded: “Dog ownership was associated with a 24% risk reduction for all-cause mortality as compared to non-ownership.” The data depicted even greater benefits for those who had experienced cardiovascular issues like a heart attack or a stroke.

In another editorial, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center cardiologist Dhruv Kazi noted that the mental health benefits to owning a dog are well-documented. “Dogs offer companionship, reduce anxiety and loneliness, increase self-esteem, and improve overall mood,” Kazi said. A 2018 survey found that dog owners were happier than cat owners. However, the physical benefits of having a dog are not to be overlooked.

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“Several studies have shown that acquiring a dog perforce increases physical exercise (as anyone who has unsuccessfully tried to sleep past the time of a dog’s routine morning walk can attest),” Kazi humorously remarked. Dog owners usually tend to spend more time outdoors, which is known to be good for your physical as well as mental wellbeing. The simple act of petting a dog – especially one that you’re familiar with – can lower your blood pressure.

For now, the theory is just a theory. There haven’t been any randomized and controlled trials that explore the correlation. In English, it means that researchers haven’t done many studies to direct one group of people to get a dog and the other group to remain pet less for the purpose of tracking the states of their health over a prolonged period of time. In order to prove that dogs CAN indeed help humans live longer, more extensive research needs to be done. After all, there are a lot of external factors that come with pet ownership and physical health.

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Pet owners tend to be younger, wealthier, better educated, and more likely to be married, all of which improve cardiovascular outcomes,” Kazi writes. Luckily, the lead researcher also discovered that “the association between dog ownership and improved survival is real, and is likely at least partially causal.” He found that one of the larger studies controlled for variety of socioeconomic and demographic factors, and the longevity effect of dog ownership still remained.

The researchers noted: “The most salient benefits of dog ownership on cardiovascular outcomes are likely mediated through large and sustained improvements in mental health, including lower rates of depression, decreased loneliness, and increased self-esteem.”

It might not be just dogs, though. In another study examined, a group of cardiac patients were randomly assigned a dog or a cat, and both groups showed a lowered blood pressure response in stressful situations. At least another previous paper looked cat owners’ health, and found that cat ownership is linked to a decrease in fatal cardiovascular incidents, too.

Basically, if you want to live a long life, get a dog AND a cat. And invite me over every weekend. Kthanxbai.

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