Owning a Dog Helps Ward Off Heart
Disease
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February 15, 2018

By Susan Callahan, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist

[Health and fitness articles are reviewed by Doctors, Registered Nurses
and other Certified fitness and health professionals]




By the time you finish reading this article, over 10 people will
have died from heart disease in the US.  For as long as we have
kept records, heart disease has been the leading cause of death
in the US, with the exception of 1918, the year of the worldwide
flu pandemic that killed 50 million people.

So, yesterday is the dame as today and, if we do nothing, it will
be the same as tomorrow, when it comes to the story of heart
disease.  What can we do to change the arc? Maybe we should
just look down. For science has discovered that there, at our
feet, may be the answer to heart disease in the form of our
family dogs. How do dogs affect our risk for heart disease? Do
certain breeds of dogs protect our hearts better than others?

Owning dogs can change your health as profoundly as surgery,
new research has found. In fact, there is almost no area of our
health that owning a dog will not affect.  

Owning a Dog Releases Oxytocin, the Cuddle Hormone


Have you ever wondered why happily married people live
longer? It's certainly not the stimulating conversation or the
absence of fighting. The secret potion that makes married people
live longer are..drumroll... hugs. Hugs? Yes, hugs are the
essential difference between the lifespan of those who live
longer than average. Being married may not guarantee you more
money or more sex even but it does greatly increase the amount
of simple human contact you have.

Hugs release a hormone called "oxytocin", also known as the
"cuddle hormone".  Oxytoxin is made in the pituitary gland at the
base of your neck and, when released, triggers relaxation. This
is the same hormone released when we pick up and hug a baby.
Scientists have found that newborn mothers experience a
natural rise in oxytocin, triggered when their babys breast feed.

Hugs also lower our blood pressure. A 2005 study from North
Caroline led by Dr. Karen Grewen examined the effects of
hugging on 38 couples. Women and men who hugged
experienced lower blood pressure as higher levels of oxytocin.
Women had higher levels of oxytocin than men, suggesting that
women get more from hugs than men.

Hugs from other people whom you trust are a wonderful source
of oxytocin. But you also experience boosts in oxytocin when
you hug dogs, research has found.


What Breeds of Dog Help Most in Preventing Heart Disease?

































You may not know that, when it comes to the benefits that hugs
confer, not all dogs are created equal.



The best breeds to own for preventing heart disease are those
bred to hunt such as labrador retrievers, according to a study
from Sweden. The 2017 study entitled "Dog ownership and the
risk of cardiovascular disease and death – a nationwide cohort
study" was a landmark examination of how dogs affect our risk
of death.

Researchers from Uppsala University led by Dr. Tove Hall used
Sweden's national database of 3.4 million hospital visits as well
as its national database of dog ownership to trace the
correlations between dog ownership and cardiac deaths. Dog
ownership must be registered into the database in Sweden as a
matter of law. At the start of the study in 2001, none of the 3.4
million people in the database had any history of heart disease.
They were then followed for 12 years.

What they found was startling. People who lived with dogs had
a 33% lower risk of death and an 11% lower rates of
cardiovascular disease than people who lived alone with dogs.


Literally, living with a dog can protect you from dying. To put
this into another perspective, consider the health benefits of
long distance running. A 2014  study from Iowa State University
found that people who run have a 30% lower risk of dying than
those who do not run. They also have a 45 lower risk of
cardiovascular disease.

Thus, owning a dog lowers your risk of death by as much as
running. Dog ownership lowers your risk of cardiovascular
disease about 25% as much as engaging in a program of regular
running.



Owning a Dog Gets You Moving More


Aside from the benefits flowing from the release of oxytocin,
having a dog also improves your heart conditioning because you
end up moving more. Dogs make you move even when you don't
want to. Dogs have to be walked every single day.

This "job" of walking your dog forces you to walk more. People
who own dogs often run into other dog owners in the park on
those dreary days when no one else wants to be outside. A
study from England's Cambridge Institute of Public Health and
Norwich Medical School discovered that elderly people who own
dogs get out more in poor weather.  

The 2017 study, entitled "Dog ownership supports the
maintenance of physical activity during poor weather in older
English adults: cross-sectional results from the EPIC Norfolk
cohort".

Looking at 3,123 adults, 18% of whom had dogs, the study
found that dog owners were less sedentary in good weather and
bad. In fact, people who have dogs move more on bad weather
days that non-dog owners move even on good weather days.



Other studies of dog owners found that they are much lore likely
than others to reach the recommended 10,000 steps per day.





For More Affection, Relaxation, Activity and Longer Life

It's hard to argue with the benefits of dog ownership, especially
if you are alone. You get boost of oxytocin, improving your
mood, your blood pressure is lower and you live longer.


Recognizing these benefits, some communities are adding dogs
to the mix of healthy habits as we age. Forward-looking
hospitals have added dog interaction with patients to improve
recovery.

We can envision a day when insurance companies will give you a
better rate for health insurance if you own a dog, just as they
now give you better rates for not smoking. Or, the day may
come when governments will give you a tax credit for owning a
dog, since you are less likely to use the health care system.


But even before those utopian fantasies play out, you can help
your health by either owning a dog --- check with the shelters,
rather than buying a dog from a store --- or just getting
involved in dog sitting or dog walking. Other than losing weight
and not smoking, there is perhaps no more important thing you
can do to improve your health.























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Having a dog lowers  your risk of death
from all causes by 30%.