Dogs drastically lowers risk of premature death, especially in people living alone

Here's to keeping your health on a tight leash: New research suggests that having a dog might boost a single person's life span.

A single dog owner is likely the only person who regularly walks and interacts with her pet, which could contribute to these individuals' reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and death, according to the study.

Swedish scientists used national data on health, hospital visits and dog ownership from 2001, the year when registering dogs became mandatory.

A dog can decrease the risk of death by 33 percent and the risk of cardiovascular-related death by 36 percent for people who live alone versus singles without a pet. Little Fido also gives you some much-needed social interaction if you live alone. Of the millions of Swedes' whose health records were analyzed, 13% owned canines, and of those, the dog owners between 40 and 80 years old tended to live longer than those in a similar age group who did not own dogs.

The study-with a sample size hundreds of times larger than any other studies on this topic-was not created to show a cause-and-effect relationship between dog ownership and reduced risk of death or cardiovascular disease, or to determine why these factors may be related.

The study looked at previously self-reported data on almost 3.5 million Swedes between the ages of 40 and 80.

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"Whether you're a pet owner or not, keeping active is a great way to help improve your heart health". It's impressive, however, to see such a significant degree of protection from dogs in a dataset comprising millions of people, lending confidence of a strong statistical association.

The protective effect was especially prominent for people living alone, who have been found to have a higher risk for early death than those who live with other people.

"We know that dog owners, in general, have a higher level of physical activity, which could be one explanation to the observed results", Tove Fall, a senior author of the study and a professor at Uppsala University, told ABC News.

While that might be true, there are enough other benefits to dog ownership to make it worth it. Dog owners are shown to be less depressed and make friends easier, according to a recent study. Their risk of heart attack was not reduced. They also probably apply to the United States, she says.

There are several possible reasons for the positive effects dogs appear to have on their owners' health, though the study did not look into this specifically.

More: Does Sleeping With Your Dog Help or Harm Your Sleep Quality?

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