I often search the internet for the latest research and discoveries surrounding man’s best friend. Most of the time that returns a handful of studies, papers, and news stories that help us all learn a little more about the way dogs mature, grow, evolve, and even interact with humans, hopefully making us better dog owners in the process. But every once in a while some of those Google searches return an interesting find or two that flips the script, where scientific research is teaching us just how profoundly helpful and impactful dogs are to us.
Such is the case with a recent study conducted by the Mayo Clinic, who have new data to support that owning a dog can be linked to improved heart health — another feather in the cap for our four-legged friends and a major addition to the bonus column of loving them so much. The research compared the health of 1,700 pet owners to non-pet owners and found that owning pets is actually a definitive boost in the hearth health department. But dog owners, as it turns out, offer the greatest boost of any type of pet ownership.
Dr. Jose Medina-Inojosa from the Mayo Clinic says, “We found that owning a dog or owning other pets was linked to better cardiovascular health which were determined by physical activity, better glucose levels, and an ideal diet.”
“Why is this,” you’re probably asking? The study didn’t offer a definitive reason as to how and why dogs lead to better heart health, but the assumptions made by researchers following their findings are pretty logical as well as basic: owning a dog keeps you more active than most other pets. The attention and care dogs require, like regular walks, visits to the park, spending time outdoors, and even becoming natural workout partners can easily inspire a more active lifestyle for anybody.
“Having a pet, it seems like it’s associated with a better mood, less likely of a person having depressive symptoms and an overall sense of wellbeing and purpose. It’s been shown to be tied up to better cardiovascular health,” Dr. Medina-Inojosa says.
Of course, this experience, known as “the dog effect,” is no revelation. Well technically, it’s most often referred to as “the pet effect,” but narrowing the greatest positive impact down to canines may build a strong case for changing the term altogether. The Kardiovize 2030 Project, the Mayo Clinic’s recent study, compared the health of people with cats, lizards, and even cockatoos among other pets. The comfort and companionship of any of these animals are intuitive, as the company of any animal in your home is going to reduce stress and even decrease feelings of loneliness, which also leads to lower cholesterol, and lower blood pressure, but only dogs make us move so darn much.
The clinic’s study included exactly 1,769 test subjects, with just over 40 percent of the study’s participants owning pets, all between 25 and 64 years old with no history of cardiovascular diseases. The study began recruiting its participants as far back as 2013 and controlled for everything from sociodemographic characteristics to cardiovascular disease risk factors, and lifestyle risks such as body mass index, healthy diet, physical activity level, smoking status, blood pressure, fasting glucose, and total cholesterol. The 24 percent of the study that included dog owners reported favorable physical activity levels and even healthier diet. They even smoke less than non-pet owners, the study discovered.
“Every year, an estimated 17 million people globally die of cardiovascular disease (CVD), accounting for 4 million — nearly 45% of all deaths — across the European region in 2016,” they wrote. “Primary prevention of CVD is achievable through early identification and modification of behavioral risk factors such as tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, and adherence to medications to treat hypertension, diabetes, and hypercholesterolemia. To face this issue, the American Heart Association (AHA) proposed a definition of seven ideal health behaviors and health factors to estimate, promote, and monitor cardiovascular health (CVH) at the population level. Those components — specifically body mass index (BMI), healthy diet, physical activity, smoking status, blood pressure, blood glucose, and total cholesterol — can be computed to create the CVH score, which helps identify individuals with poor CVH at higher risk of CVD.”
The study joins a long list of research that points to both physical and tangible lifestyle changes associated with pet ownership as well as the social-psychological benefits of pet ownership. Sometimes, it seems, we don’t need science to explain or understand our own observations about the impact dogs can have on our lives and our wellbeing. This spectrum of everything from aiding feelings of loneliness to physical, measurable health benefits can often be anecdotal but just as strong in supporting our love for canines.
“When you look at the results for feelings of loneliness, it turns out that the loneliest people are individuals who do not own pets and, just as in the case of social isolation, the researchers found that simply owning a cat does not reduce these feelings,” writes Stanley Coren PhD., DSc, FRSC, who examined the results of a recent study that compared the effects of dogs versus cats on single senior citizens. The results of the study couldn’t offer Conner any definitive answers as to why dogs had such a profound positive effect as opposed to cats, and somehow even greater so on women than on men. And then he took his own pup for his regular afternoon walk.
“I was out walking my younger dog when I ran into another retired professor who lives in my neighborhood,” Corner writes about his revelation. “He was walking his schnauzer. We stopped and chatted for a few minutes, and he brought me up to date on some gossip about matters at the university. I, in turn, provided a bit of news to him about one of our mutual friends.
For that brief moment at least, I felt fully plugged into society and my social environment. As we parted and I headed for home, it dawned upon me that if my only pet had been a cat, that conversation would never have occurred. The simple needs of a dog for exercise force a senior (like me) to get out of the house—and thus provides the opportunity for social encounters and interactions. Cats simply do not move you out of the door where you can make contact with the rest of the world.”