Hardly a day goes by but what I see an article linking something to better health and longevity. For instance, I just read sleep is correlated with longevity. A recent article claimed a consistent sleep schedule is more important than getting eight hours of sleep per night. Another article I read was similar to the Blue Zones post I earlier wrote about, claiming Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California live longer than average. Marriage helps you live longer (insert joke about not necessarily living longer but it feels longer). Intermittent fasting boosts longevity in mouse models and is thought to boost longevity in humans as well. Also, positive views about aging helps you live longer. Of course, those in good health probably tend to have more positive views of getting older than those in poor health, so take that with a grain of salt. Purportedly, friends boost your health and longevity. That too could be a self-selecting proxy for better health, since the ability to get together with friends is easier when in good health. Finally the Wall Street Journal writes that dogs help you live longer.
Research shows that canine companions can help with stress, allergies and even cardiovascular disease, in part by giving us a reason to focus on the future.
Dogs seem to make us healthier than we would be without them. Social psychologist Bruce Headey conducted a survey of Australian dog-owners and found that they take fewer trips to the doctor and sleep better than non-dog-owners. They are also less likely to be on heart medications.
Owning a dog requires sticking to a routine. Some dog breeds require more activity to care for them than others. However, dog ownership and longevity could be a case of correlation versus causation, or a combination of the two. Yet there is undoubtedly some benefit, like walking your dog.
Research led by Mary Janevic of the University of Michigan School of Public Health examined how older adults with chronic pain felt their pets affected them. Participants reported that their dogs motivated them to get up and get moving, which helped alleviate their pain. The pets distracted people from their pain and generally improved their moods. As Janevic noted in an interview, “Engaging in pet care can give a sense of daily purpose and routine that keeps a person going, even when they are having a pain flare-up. In this way, pets can be thought of as a natural resource for chronic pain self-management.”
Research also suggests that having a dog is associated with lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, a reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes and reduced physiological responses to stress. These effects may partly explain why dog ownership is associated with a 31% decreased risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
Scientists also note that dog ownership has benefits beyond the mere companionship. Having a dog around may promote activity (walking the dog) but also an attitude that you need to be around to take care of it. The dust and pollen dogs track into the house have benefits too. Kids raised in a household with dogs tend to have fewer allergies than those raised in pet-free homes.
Reading between the lines illustrates this isn’t really about dogs. Rather, it’s about responsibility and having something to live for, take care of a pet and sharing affection. As the article notes, dogs don’t necessarily prevent cardiovascular disease, but they can help you recover from serious problems faster. The same is true for the other articles linked to above. Being a Seventh Day Adventist is about leading a healthy lifestyle. Being married, having friends, having a regular sleep schedule and having a positive outlook are all part of a healthy lifestyle. Of course, having good genetics comes in handy too.
Read more at The Wall Street Journal (gated)