Want to live longer? Try get­ting a dog, study says

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NATION & WORLD - By Christo­pher In­gra­ham

Some tips for liv­ing a long, healthy life: Eat right. Get plenty of sleep and ex­er­cise. And get a dog.

That last item comes cour­tesy of a study pub­lished in Cir­cu­la­tion, the jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion, which re­views sev­eral decades’ worth of ev­i­dence on the re­la­tion­ship be­tween dog own­er­ship and mor­tal­ity.

The au­thors un­der­took the re­view in an ef­fort to rec­on­cile dif­fer­ences in pre­vi­ously pub­lished lit­er­a­ture on the topic, some of which showed a ben­e­fit to dog own­er­ship, oth­ers which did not.

Af­ter re­view­ing 10 stud­ies that in­cluded data on 3.8 mil­lion par­tic­i­pants, the au­thors de­ter­mine that “dog own­er­ship was as­so­ci­ated with a 24% risk re­duc­tion for all-cause mor­tal­ity as com­pared to non-own­er­ship.” The data showed even greater ben­e­fits among those who’d ex­pe­ri­enced car­dio­vas­cu­lar is­sues, such as a heart at­tack and stroke.

“Dog own­er­ship,” the au­thors con­clude, “is as­so­ci­ated with lower risk of death over the long term, which is pos­si­bly driven by a re­duc­tion in car­dio­vas­cu­lar mor­tal­ity.”

So what is it about own­ing a dog that would make peo­ple live longer?

In an ac­com­pa­ny­ing ed­i­to­rial, car­di­ol­o­gist Dhruv Kazi of Beth Is­rael Dea­coness Med­i­cal Cen­ter out­lined some of the find­ings. For starters, there are men­tal health ben­e­fits to own­ing a pooch: “Dogs of­fer com­pan­ion­ship, re­duce anx­i­ety and lone­li­ness, in­crease self-es­teem, and im­prove over­all mood,” he writes.

The 2018 Gen­eral So­cial Sur­vey found that dog own­ers were hap­pier than cat own­ers.

Then there are the phys­i­cal ben­e­fits. “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 writes. Peo­ple who own dogs tend to spend more time out­doors, which is known to be ben­e­fi­cial to health. Sim­ply pet­ting a dog — es­pe­cially a fa­mil­iar one — low­ers a per­son’s blood pres­sure.

It’s plau­si­ble that such phys­i­cal and men­tal health ben­e­fits are the path­way by which dog own­er­ship makes a per­son live longer. One draw­back in the lit­er­a­ture, how­ever, is that there haven’t been any ran­dom­ized con­trolled tri­als look­ing at dog own­er­ship and mor­tal­ity. Re­searchers haven’t done many stud­ies that di­rect one group of peo­ple to pur­chase a dog, and an­other group to re­main pet­less, and track their health over a pe­riod of time. Those stud­ies are con­sid­ered the gold stan­dard — what you’d need to be able to say defini­tively that own­ing a dog causes peo­ple to live longer.

You’d want to do this to rule out con­found­ing fac­tors. “Pet own­ers tend to be younger, wealth­ier, bet­ter ed­u­cated, and more likely to be mar­ried, all of which im­prove car­dio­vas­cu­lar out­comes,” Kazi writes. It may be the case that be­ing health­ier and wealth­ier causes peo­ple to be more likely to ac­quire a dog.

Still, Kazi writes, the bal­ance of the ev­i­dence to date con­vinces him that “the as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween dog own­er­ship and im­proved sur­vival is real, and is likely at least par­tially causal.”

One of the larger stud­ies in­cluded in the re­view con­trolled for a va­ri­ety of so­cio-eco­nomic and de­mo­graphic fac­tors and found that the longevity ef­fect of dog own­er­ship re­mained.

Though the study didn’t ex­am­ine the ef­fects of cat own­er­ship on mor­tal­ity, at least one pre­vi­ous pa­per has ex­plored the con­nec­tion and found that cat own­er­ship, too, is linked to a de­crease in fa­tal car­dio­vas­cu­lar events.

DON BARTLETTI/LOS AN­GE­LES TIMES

Peo­ple who own dogs tend to spend more time out­doors, which is known to be ben­e­fi­cial to health, the study says.

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