Want to live longer? Get a dog

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The study, which is the largest to date on the health implications of owning a dog, suggested that some of the reasons dog owners may have a lower risk of mortality and cardiovascular disease were because dog owners walk more.

Having a dog can bring a lot of love into your life.

Owning a pooch can reduce the risk death by a third, according to a new Swedish study. In households with more people under the same roof, dogs had less of a positive impact, but still lowered deaths from heart disease by 15%, the work reveals.

According to a new study in a Swedish publication, dog ownership is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and death. People who lived alone with a dog had a 33% reduced risk of death, and an 11% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, than people who lived alone without a dog.

Scientists examined data relating to Swedes aged between 40 and 80, who in 2001 (when registration of dog ownership was first made obligatory) had no history of cardiovascular disease. The estimated 1.1 million lonely Britons are 50% more likely to die prematurely than those with good social networks, making loneliness as harmful to the nation's health as diabetes.

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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.

"Perhaps a dog may stand in as an important family member in the single households", said Mwenya Mubanga, lead junior author of the study and Ph.D. student at the Department of Medical Sciences and the Science for Life Laboratory, Uppsala University, in a statement.

"We know that dog owners in general have a higher level of physical activity, which could be one explanation to the observed results", said Tove Fall, an associate professor in epidemiology at Uppsala University in Sweden. Their risk of heart attack was not reduced.

An interesting finding, though purely correlative, was that dogs belonging to breeds originally selected for hunting offered the most protection, the authors reported in Scientific Reports. It adds adds to mounting evidence about the benefits of living with a canine companion. "The primary reason to adopt a dog or any other pet should be to give that dog or pet a loving home and to not do it just thinking that okay, I have a dog and now I'm going to be healthier". Meta-analyses have confirmed dog owners are more active-especially in poor weather-than non-owners, and the animals can act as social supports, improving an owner's perception of their well-being.

Dog owners were more likely to be younger than non-owners, Fall and colleagues wrote, and were more likely to live in rural areas.

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