This week, a couple of “having a dog is good for your health” studies came out. One of them , a systematic review of medical studies on associations of dog ownership with health, found a 24% reduced mortality risk across various groups in studies done in several countries. The other one other one found a 21% reduced mortality risk (risk of death from any cause) for people with heart disease. Here’s a bit more detail about this study from the journal commentary:
The effect was remarkably consistent across various demographic subgroups but was modified by the number of individuals in the household: single-person households with dogs were associated with a markedly greater reduction in all-cause mortality than multi-person households. Interestingly, the effect appeared to be somewhat larger for owners of more active breeds like pointers and hunting dogs, possibly due to their need for greater physical activity.
This stands to reason. If you live alone and have a dog, you have to take care of it– feed, walk, play with, throw chew toys around with, etc. And if you have a more active dog, that dog will want and need more stimulation and activity. So you get the same as you take care of your dog. And this is good for you.
Of course, you may be asking the question: does finding an association mean that have a dog causes better health? No. The journal editor made this clear:
… Pet owners tend to be younger, wealthier, better educated, and more likely to be married, all of which improve cardiovascular outcomes… individuals who own a dog may have higher disposable incomes than those who do not. High incomes are in turn associated with a lower prevalence of tobacco use, diabetes, and obesity in the population, so the observed relationship between pet ownership and outcomes may be partially due to socioeconomic factors… Finally, the association between dog ownership and good health may even be reverse causal because adults with excellent physical health are more likely to adopt a dog than those who are too ill or frail to care for a pet…
But, the editor continues, it’s consistent with what we know about human biology that dog ownership has all sorts of positive physical effects on people. And,
…the most salient benefits of dog ownership on cardiovascular outcomes are likely mediated through large and sustained improvements in mental health, including lower rates of depression, decreased loneliness, and increased self-esteem. This may explain why the effect appears to be larger for individuals living alone than those in multi-person households.
The upshot, for me, is this: I should get a dog.
I’ve wanted to get a dog for years. I’ve hemmed and hawed and dragged my feet and trotted out excuses– I’m too busy! I travel too much! My life is already full! I’m not a morning person!
All of these things are true. But I keep coming back to this imperative: Catherine, you need a dog in your life. I do think that, once we (my future dog and me) get settled into a routine, I’ll wonder why I didn’t do this 30 years earlier. (I did grow up with dogs, so I know what I’d be getting into).
Dogs are not fitness accessories like gym memberships or shiny new bikes. They’re creatures with wants and needs who are utterly dependent on us. The seriousness of taking on the care of another creature is what’s given me pause all these years. But I keep coming back to the question: should I get a dog now? How about now?
My inner conversation hasn’t gone anywhere yet, except to endless online perusing of rescue dog sites and breed information gathering. But I am putting this out there as a step forward in the process.
Question to you, dear readers: what are some ways having a dog has affected your health or fitness? Have there been changes? I’d love to hear from you.