If you enjoy the companionship of canines, they could be benefiting you in more ways than just their happy furry faces.
Researchers in Sweden have found that having a dog in your life is positively correlated with better cardiovascular health.
In a 12-year study of over 3.4 million Swedish people aged between 40 and 80, researchers found that dog owners were on average at a lower risk of death, of death by cardiovascular disease, and of cardiovascular disease full stop.
Interestingly, the groups who had the strongest results were single people living alone with a dog. And the lowest rates of cardiovascular disease were amongst people living with hunting dog breeds, such as terriers and retrievers.
The data was collected from several different databases. In Sweden, every time a person visits a hospital, information about their visit is recorded to a database, and researchers are then able to access anonymised data. This is really useful for things like national health surveys.
By cross-referencing this information against national dog registers, researchers from Uppsala University were able to find correlations between dog ownership and health outcomes.
"A very interesting finding in our study was that dog ownership was especially prominent as a protective factor in persons living alone, which is a group reported previously to be at higher risk of cardiovascular disease and death than those living in a multi-person household," said researcher Mwenya Mubanga.
"The results showed that single dog owners had a 33 percent reduction in risk of death and 11 percent reduction in risk of myocardial infarction during follow-up compared to single non-owners."
Single people living alone with a dog were also 8 percent less likely to have cardiovascular problems than single people without dogs.
It's important to note that the researchers unearthed these results in a prospective cohort study, which means they observed a correlation, but can't say whether dog ownership is an actual cause of better heart health.
"[I]t is still possible that personal characteristics that we did not have information about affect the choice of not only acquiring a dog, but also the breed and the risk of cardiovascular disease," the team writes in the study.
That said, some previous studies have also noted the correlation, as described in this 2013 statement from the American Heart Association.
A 2002 study that correlated pet ownership with lower stress levels concluded that, because people perceive pets as important, that has a positive psychosomatic effect on their cardiovascular health, but the Uppsala University researchers proposed a more simple reason: people with dogs get more exercise.
"We know that dog owners in general have a higher level of physical activity, which could be one explanation to the observed results," said senior study author Tove Fall, a epidemiologist at Uppsala University.
"Other explanations include an increased well-being and social contacts or effects of the dog on the bacterial microbiome in the owner."
Whatever the reason may be, if you were on the fence about getting a dog, this is valuable new information to consider.
The research has been published in the journal Scientific Reports.