Sweden has always been considered one of the most advanced countries in the field of health care, managing to develop community-based services and maintain a high quality of life. It also carries out a lot of health-related research, including investigating factors that might influence the psychological well-being of its population.
It has long been recognized that owning a dog can have positive psychological benefits. But, along with an improvement in psychological well-being, owning a dog comes with physical benefits too, most notably reducing the overall, all-cause mortality rate.
Notably, cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death in the world, with over 3.9 million people dying in Europe each year. These diseases can be prevented through a healthy lifestyle with good nutrition and constant physical activity. Additionally, one study carried out by a Swedish research team from Uppsala University showed that the presence of a dog in the home also had a beneficial effect on the survival rate of patients who had suffered a heart attack or stroke, especially if they lived alone.
The study, reported on a Swedish website, focused on people aged 40-85 who had suffered a heart attack or stroke during the 12-year period from 2001 to 2012. Patient information, including diagnosis, age, and survival was obtained from the Swedish National Patient Register. The researchers identified dog owners amongst their patient groups by using the dog registers kept by the Swedish Kennel Club and the Swedish Board of Agriculture. This allowed an investigation into the links between dog owners and survival after a cardiovascular event.
The scientists found some interesting links. Regardless of whether the diagnosis was stroke or heart attack, dog owners had a better survival rate. However, patients who lived alone and who had suffered a heart attack, had the greatest benefit – a 33% reduction in mortality – from owning a dog.
De-stress with a dog
Owners of dogs can improve their social and physical lives precisely by caring for their 4-legged friend. In fact, a dog not only makes humans less lonely, but also enforces daily physical activity, in good and bad weather.
As the Swedish study indicates, the causes leading to this reduction in mortality after a cardiovascular event may be multiple. However, one direct effect of having a dog could be the alleviation of psychosocial stressors. This includes isolation, depression, and loneliness. These common symptoms are reported to be minimized in dog owners. In contrast, when these factors are at high levels, they have been linked to an increased risk of coronary heart disease and mortality in general.
Faster recovery of blood pressure
Dog ownership has also been associated with elevated parasympathetic activity, lower stress reactivity, and faster recovery of blood pressure after a stressful activity. The beneficial effect of dog ownership can also be seen in cases of rehabilitation. For example, caring for an animal means that there is extra motivation and more support to resume movement.
In addition, elderly people or people living alone are those who benefit most from owning a dog. This is due to interacting with the dog. For example, in a larger family, each person interacts in a different way. While one member may take the dog for a walk, another one may feed the dog. In contrast, an elderly person living alone is required to carry out all these activities thmselves. By doing so, the dog owner is constantly in movement and leads a less sedentary lifestyle.
Finding new interests thanks to our four-legged friends
In short, people who share time and space with a dog record a significant improvement in their health status. And this is all down to a simple reason. Dogs force their owners to exercise daily. Whether it is just a few minutes in the morning and evening or a longer walk in the park, this activity reactivates the body and brings valuable energy to muscles and joints, thus maintaining a more balanced lifestyle. This also allows people of all ages to find new stimulation. Additionally, the presence of a dog can help the owner to forge relationships and friendships with other dog owners.
Other essential benefits that dogs provide
Not only can having a dog help a person stay fit, it can also promote quality of life and encourage independence. For example, an elderly person with health issues such as dementia or mental health conditions may have trouble communicating with other people. But, interacting with a therapy dog may help create benefits such as reducing anxiety, loneliness and depression.
But, not only do dogs help comfort their owners, they also want to be loved in return. The simple act of taking the dog for a walk can build a bond. Additionally, that daily walk has been proven to be beneficial as it reduces cholesterol levels, helps lower blood pressure and more. It’s a win-win solution for everyone involved.