They’re cute. They’re snuggly. They make for great Instagram videos. And they always seem to be able to cheer you up when you need it the most. Pet owners have long known that having a four-legged—or even two or no legged, for that matter—friend can be one of life’s greatest joys. But it turns out, they may also be the key to a longer joyful life, too: A recent study found that owning a dog can make you 24 percent less likely to die early.
The research, which was published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation in 2019, analyzed 10 previous studies from over the span of 70 years that included data on more than 3.8 million people from United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, New Zealand, and Australia, CNN reports. The authors found that “dog ownership was associated with a 24 percent risk reduction for all-cause mortality as compared to non-ownership,” and showed an even greater benefit to those who had suffered a heart attack or stroke, The Washington Post reports.
The authors of the study hypothesize that besides the emotional boost dogs provide, they also require their owners to change their lifestyles in ways that are often heart-healthy. “Several studies have shown that acquiring a dog perforce increases physical exercise (as anyone who has unsuccessfully tried to sleep past the time of a dog’s routine morning walk can attest),” Dhruv Work, MD, cardiologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, wrote in an editorial about the study.
Kazi points out that dog owners are more likely to spend health-boosting time outdoors, and that simply petting a dog can lower someone’s blood pressure. “The most salient benefits of dog ownership on cardiovascular outcomes are likely mediated through large and sustained improvements in mental health, including lower rates of depression, decreased loneliness, and increased self-esteem,” he wrote.
Luckily, dogs are not alone in helping their owners live longer lives. A 2009 study found that cat owners showed a decreased death rate from cardiovascular diseases thanks to their ability to reduce stress levels and blood pressure. And a study published in 2015 found that elderly patients who took care of crickets showed lower levels of depression than patients who just received medical advice. And for more ways to live longer, check out 50 Important Habits Linked to a Longer Life.