Want to live longer? Get a dog. What to be healthier? Get a dog. What to be loved unconditionally? Get a dog. (I am sure a cat would do at a pinch.)
Dogs and humans have a special bond, that has been documented throughout history, across cultures and now in research. It appears that we have coexisted with our furry darlings for at least 16,000 years, and possibly a lot longer. Indeed, the skeletons of a woman, a man and a disabled dog, were discovered together in Germany, and have been dated to 14,300 years ago. This suggests that the human-dog bond has an extraordinarily long history, even transcending the practicality of survival and limited resources. To choose to be buried with your dog implies a very strong species bond. And for that dog to be disabled means that the dog was valued beyond a purpose, such as helping to hunt or guard an encampment. We truly love our dogs, as they love us, and it has been this way for many thousands of years.
As if the animal-human bond wasn’t enough, research is showing that dogs actually increase our life span. We all know that breeds such as the lovable St Bernard are famous for physically saving human lives, but the research shows that a strong bond with any dog does wonders for our health and wellbeing.
A study conducted by researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden, involving 3.4 million adults, showed that those with dogs had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death than those without them. Indeed, cardiovascular disease was reduced by a third. The researchers concluded that one major factor might be the increased physical activity involved with having to regularly walk a dog. However, they also put forward that positive emotional states of happiness and love associated with having a pet were an important factor too.
Of course, scientific reductionism will never uncover the full ramifications of affairs of the heart for we know these are too complex and difficult to pin down. But with a heart bond so many thousands of years old, something pretty magical is going on, and that magic is extending lives.
Please note, if you are unwell, we do advise that you get a tailored treatment program from your healthcare practitioner.
Mubanga, M., Byberg, L., Nowak, C. et al. Dog ownership and the risk of cardiovascular disease and death – a nationwide cohort study. Sci Rep 7, 15821 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-16118-6
Christian, Hayley E et al. “Dog ownership and physical activity: a review of the evidence.” Journal of physical activity & health vol. 10,5 (2013): 750-9. doi:10.1123/jpah.10.5.750
Barak Y. (2006). The immune system and happiness. Autoimmunity reviews, 5(8), 523–527. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.autrev.2006.02.010