Man's best friend provides companionship and possibly gives their humans an added health benefit. Two new studies from the American Heart Association suggest owning a dog leads to longer life expectancy.

The AHA's medical journal, Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, published the studies titled "Dog Ownership and Survival After a Major Cardiovascular Event" and "Dog Ownership and Survival".

Benefits for survivors of heart attack and stroke

Researchers compared the health of dog owners and non-owners through data from the Swedish National Patient Register. People involved in the study were Swedish residents between 40 and 85 years old who experienced a heart attack or ischemic stroke from 2001-2012.

Flow chart of the study population. (Source: AHA Journals)

Researchers concluded owning a dog was associated with a 33% lower risk of death for heart attack survivors living alone and 27% reduced risk of death for stroke survivors living alone. According to the announcement from the AHA, the decreased risk was attributed to an increase in physical activity and lower rates of depression and loneliness.

“The results of this study suggest positive effects of dog ownership for patients who have experienced a heart attack or stroke. However, more research is needed to confirm a causal relationship and giving recommendations about prescribing dogs for prevention. Moreover, from an animal welfare perspective, dogs should only be acquired by people who feel they have the capacity and knowledge to give the pet a good life,” the release states.

Overall health benefits of canine companions

In addition, dog ownership was associated with a 24% reduced risk of death and a 31% lower risk of death by heart attack or stroke compared to people who didn't have a dog.

Researchers reviewed data from more than 3.8 million people who took part in 10 separate studies to compare the health of dog owners and adults who don't own a dog.

“Having a dog was associated with increased physical exercise, lower blood pressure levels and better cholesterol profile in previous reports,” said Dr. Caroline Kramer, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Toronto who is also an endocrinologist and clinician scientist at Leadership Sinai Centre for Diabetes at Mount Sinai Hospital. “As such, the findings that people who owned dogs lived longer and their risk for cardiovascular death was also lower are somewhat expected.”

Here are some more stats in this video from the AHA on living a healthier life with a pet.

The new studies add to prior research that supports better health outcomes, which have shown dog ownership helped with social isolation, increased physical activity and lower blood pressure. Dr. Kramer said the next step is for scientists to evaluate medical changes following dog adoption and the social and psychological benefits of a canine companion.

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