Key to living longer may be owning a dog, new study suggests

(KMOX) — A dog isn't just man's best friend — a new study finds it could be your heart's best friend as well.

The American Heart Association finds there's a 33% lower risk of death in heart attack survivors who own a dog compared to those who live alone. It also found owning a dog helps lower your risk of dying early by 24%. Overall, this study reported dog owners are a bit more physically active, more social and have lower stress levels than those who do not own a dog.

"This is fascinating stuff and kind of uplifting research," said SLU Care cardiologist Dr. Michael Lim at SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital. "They found the association that if you had a heart attack and you are a dog owner, your risk of dying actually markedly goes down."

A lot of the reason has to do with companionship.

"Companionship is really important in life," Dr. Lim told KMOX. "When you have a companion, when you have a pet, or someone you interact with and you share your life with, it becomes more meaningful. That's the bigger bottom line of what this study is showing."

This study also found people who walk their dogs tend to get 30 minutes more exercise a day than those who don't.

"Dog owners say to themselves — hey, the dog is going to be healthier if it gets out — and so you take it for a walk once or twice a day and then you get more exercise as well."

Also, petting a dog has been found to help reduce your blood pressure and lower your stress.

"Most people talk to their dogs and they share things with their dogs," said Dr. Lim. "You can just see people smile when they are with a dog. I believe people's blood pressure goes down, their heart rate goes down and their stress level goes down."

SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital just had a dog — Bennett — visit patients on its cardiology floor.

"It was amazing just to watch the interaction of the dog with the patients," said Dr. Lim. "The dog will walk up to somebody and all of a sudden there's a big smile on that person's face. That sense of joy that people get by just seeing a dog wag its tail and then have a chance to pet that dog is something that I think is contributing to the fact that you are going to live longer."

"We've always said that dog is man's best friend, but continuing to prove that that might be true is pretty cool," said Dr. Lim.

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