Having a dog could save your life. Here’s why and how. Posted on October 18, 2019October 18, 2019 by Peter Meadows When it comes to dogs that save lives you probably think of a St Bernard braving the snow. Or a sniffer dog finding those trapped under wreckage. But please think again. Be they Crufts champions or the lowliest mutt, every dog is a potential lifesaver and life extender. That’s what researchers have discovered on analysing data from almost 4 million people. To put it simply – they found those who own a dog likely to live longer than those who don’t. How much longer? The review, bringing together ten studies and published for the American Heart Association, reveals dog owners were 24 per cent less likely to die over a ten year period than sans-pooch people. Why does owning a dog have such a protective effect on our health – especially for people living alone or recovering from heart disease? According to this research, published in the journal Circulation, dog owners are likely to benefit from lower blood pressure, healthier cholesterol and a lowered stress response. Those behind the study point to three main reasons– Exercise: People with dogs move about more – walking and playing with them. And, unlike non-dog owners, have a built in ‘nagger’ to make sure this activity happens. For more on the value of exercise see the AfterWorkNet blog Do the washing up to live longer. Fresh air: It seems the human body does better when able to fill its lungs with fresh air and let sunlight fall in its skin. And that’s what happens when people go ‘walkies’ Companionship: Loneliness is a killer, science has shown. It can do as much harm to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. As Dr Dhruv S Kazi said in a commentary on the research findings, ‘Dogs offer companionship, reduce anxiety and loneliness, increase self-esteem, and improve overall mood.’ All of which improve mental health and reduce stress-related wear and tear on our body and heart. For more on the impact of loneliness see the AfterWorkNet web pages on The Lonely. All of this points to the two great lifesaving outcomes a four legged friend can deliver. These being – Better overall health Dog ownership was associated with a 24 percent risk reduction in dying for any reason compared to those who don’t own a dog. All that walking, fresh air and companionship adds years to life. Better recovery Another dog-related study, reported in the same issue of Circulation, looked at the impact of pet ownership on stroke and heart attack survivors. Using data from more than 300,000 Swedish patients together with that from the national dog registr, it showed – Heart attack patients living alone and owning a dog were a third less likely to suffer another heart attack than those who were canine free. Stroke patients living alone with a dog were more than a quarter less likely to suffer another one. Dr Tove Fall of Uppsala University, who was behind the research said, ‘If this was a drug, it would make a pharmaceutical company very rich.’ Returning to the major study, the message is ‘don’t hang about – get a dog’. Its lead author Caroline Kramer points out, ‘The overall understanding of cardiovascular health is the earlier we implement healthier behaviours the better.’ To sum up. If you have a dog, be thankful for the extra years your companion is likely to bestow on you. Which is what ‘best friends’ do. No dog? You have three options. Get one. Borrow one – offer to do the walking, or dog sit. Make sure you experience those things a dog would contribute to your life in some other way. It may be a dog’s life. But there can be more life in the old dog yet – if you have a dog. Have you an experience of your life being richer and more healthy thanks to having a dog? Please share it here or with the AfterWorkNet Facebook group. Thank you. Peter Meadows Peter is AfterWorkNet’s Programme Director. He’s still working part time in his 70s, helping churches and resourcing inter-church initiatives. This is alongside enjoying his eight grandchildren, escaping to Spain and spending his kids’ inheritance. He doesn’t have a dog.