November 22nd, 2019

To Your Health: Another reason to love and treasure dogs

By GILLIAN SLADE on July 8, 2019.

Dogs really are our best friends, according to a Swedish study that says canine ownership could reduce heart disease.

Most dogs have the ability to bring smiles to people faces and coax the most reluctant individual to get up and go for a walk.

This Swedish study of 3.4 million people, between the ages of 40 and 80, determined that there is a 23% reduction in death from heart disease and a 20% lower risk of dying from another cause during the study period of 12 years.

We already know from previous studies that dogs can be companions that reduce social isolation, can reduce depression and also have the effect of reducing high blood pressure.

A dog looking at you appealingly is hard to resist if you know they’d like a walk or want you to let them outside or provide some food. If it gets you up and moving about, and potentially taking a walk that you would not do otherwise, the dog is responsible for you increasing your physical activity and even lowering cholesterol levels.

The epidemiologist on this Swedish study, Tove Fall, says researchers made a point of making an allowance for other factors that could influence the study. This included education, existing health conditions and how lifestyles may be different for those with a dog compared to those without a dog.

Apparently the largest impact of having a dog applied to those who live alone.

“It seems that a dog can be a substitute for living with other people in terms of reducing the risk of dying,” said Fall. “Dogs encourage you to walk, they provide social support and they make life more meaningful. If you have a dog, you interact more with other people. If you do get ill and go into hospital and you have a dog, there’s a huge motivation to try to get back home.”

Dogs are an ice-breaker. If you tend to be reluctant to make conversation, people are more likely to talk to you if you have a dog because you will appear more approachable.

This study struck a chord with me when it mentioned living longer because you feel needed, or the dog being an incentive to get better and leave hospital.

I have seen again and again the difference between aging seniors who still feel needed, wanted and useful compared to the depression of those who feel there is nothing to live for.

Whether it is a relative, aging parent, or neighbour we need to remind ourselves that they need to feel needed. It may be quicker or more convenient to do a small job yourself but the rewards of asking a senior to help you can pay dividends you will never be able to measure.

Add a dog and increase the benefits – for the health of it.

Here’s to man’s best friend and here’s To Your Health

To Your Health is a weekly column by Gillian Slade, health reporter for the News, bringing you news on health issues and research from around the world. You can reach her at gslade@medicinehatnews.com or 403-528-8635.

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