“Must Love Dogs!”

Heart health

By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder

According to the 2017-2018 National Pet Owners Survey, nearly 70% of U.S. households, or about 85 million families, own a pet. My family is one of those families. In fact, we are the proud owners of five German Shepherds. They are fun animals and perform many important functions  such as being our mental and physical fitness coaches.

And many scientific studies support the positive health benefits of pet ownership. For example, dog ownership has been associated with a reduction of cardiovascular risk by providing social support and motivation for physical activity.

More recently, a very extensive study suggested that owning a dog is associated with a longer and healthier life. The results of the study were published in Scientific Reports on November 17, 2017. 

For the study, researchers evaluated more than 3.4 million Swedish adults (aged 40 to 80 years, about half male and half female) over a 12-year period.

People who had significant heart issues, including those who had to go through coronary artery bypass, between January 1, 1987 to December 31, 2000, were excluded from the study.

Participants were assigned to either the category of single-person household or multiple-person household (married, living with a partner and/or a child).

Of the 3,432,153 individuals sampled, 13.1% were dog owners during the 12-year study period.

The results revealed that those study participants in single-households with a dog, decreased their risk of cardiovascular related death by 36%, compared to singles without a dog. Participants with a dog also showed an 11% lower risk for heart attack.

Study participants in multiple-person households with dogs appeared to reduce their risk of death related to heart disease by 15%, compared to those in similar households with no dogs. Interestingly, there appeared to be no reduction in the risk of heart attack in dog owners living in multiple-person households, compared to the reduction in risk of heart attack single-household dog owners appeared to have.

“One mechanism by which dog ownership could reduce CVD risk and mortality is by alleviating psychosocial stress factors, such as social isolation, depression and loneliness - all  reportedly lower in dog owners,” the study says. These stress factors have all been linked to increased risk of coronary heart disease and early death.

“Dog ownership has also been associated with elevated parasympathetic and diminished sympathetic nervous system activity, lower reactivity to stress, and faster recovery of blood pressure following stressful activity. Apart from the social support, it has consistently been shown that dog owners achieve more physical activity and spend more time engaged in outdoor activities.”

Other studies support the finding that owning and walking a dog may help with depression by promoting physical touch, providing a distraction, encouraging playfulness and more. And with younger children, having them help take care of a dog may instill more responsibility and confidence.

What is particularly interesting about the latest study is ownership of hunting/sporting breed dogs was associated with lowest risk of CVD.

In a separate study involving 55 college students, conducted by the National Institutes for Health (NIH), researchers found that when the students petted dogs it increased their levels of secretory IgA, which is the main immunoglobulin found in mucous secretions and key in immunity.

There is also some evidence that owning a dog may improve gut health. You may be familiar with probiotics and prebiotics, beneficial bugs your gut needs to stay balanced and healthy.

According to a report,[s]ome intriguing early research suggests links between the microbes that our animal companions bring into our homes — and that we breathe in and swallow — and the microbes that thrive in our digestive tract.”

More research is needed but one doctor says, “[e]xposure to animal bacteria may trigger bacteria in our gut to change how they metabolize the neurotransmitters that have an impact on mood and other mental functions.”  

So if you’re single and debating whether to get a dog, I say 'go for it.' If your kids are ‘begging’ you for a dog, perhaps you should consider bringing one home.

If you just cannot own a dog, remember the important takeaway from this research is that physical activity and social support may be key in supporting a healthy life. 

Enjoy your healthy life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.

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