It’s been fairly well established that owning a dog improves your health; petting an animal can lower blood pressure and reduce stress and the necessary walking increases regular physical activity. But not only does having a canine companion help people log more steps each day, for older adults who live alone, dog ownership can actually reduce the risk of an early death.
A recent Swedish study, published recently in Scientific Reports, found that people who lived with a dog rather than alone had a 33 per cent lower risk of death and an 11 per cent lower risk for cardiovascular disease.
Walking a dog helps people, especially older adults, stay more active and pay better attention to their health; perhaps because they know that their pet is counting on them for care. Getting outdoors for regular walks not only improves fitness, it provides important opportunities for social interaction which is as important for overall well-being as exercise. Social isolation, leading to depression and a poorer quality of life is one of the growing concerns among an aging population.
Dogs that require more exercise, often hunting breeds, provided the most protection for their owners against heart disease and death. While some breeds can handle a couple of days without walking, retrievers, hounds and terriers will likely drive you crazy enough indoors to head out for a good walk every day no matter what the weather.
And dogs, which carry dirt and pollen into our homes on their paws and fur, may also be improving their human’s immune system by having a positive effect on their microbiome, the gut bacteria which plays an important role in health and the development of disease.
Having another living creature to curl up with while watching a movie or even in bed can offer comfort as well as a sense of purpose in older age. As children grow into adults and move away and busy careers draw to a close, dog ownership can bring a great deal of joy to the life of a senior.
To read the full study follow this link to Scientific Reports online, a Nature Research Journal.