Both literally and figuratively, being a dog owner gives you a better heart.
It probably won't surprise you to learn that according to a 2017 Swedish study, dog owners were found to have a 23 per cent reduced risk of developing heart disease than non-dog owners.
Naturally, we dog owners are forced to exercise twice a day – every single day – to keep our pups alive and thriving, so it's probably just all the walking that does it. Or is it?
A friend recently dog-sat for me while I was unable to have my dog – a 7-year-old English Springer Spaniel – in the house for a few short periods while my husband was away. Except for holidays, I've spent every day with this animal by my side since 2012. Being a military spouse, often it has just been me and my dog for many months at a time.
Those nights without him (or anyone else in the house) were uneasy. I felt the physical absence of another heartbeat in the house. It was so quiet, I had nobody to talk to (yes, all dog owners talk to their dogs). There were no patter-patter footsteps on the floors. No trail of water drips between his bowl and his bed. No clumps of fur to vacuum up. I felt isolated. Unwanted, even. There was nobody in the house who needed me.
It wasn't much of a shock when I took to Google and learned you're also 20 per cent less likely to die from any cause if you have a dog (than if you were to live in a pet-free home). See, dogs actually give us life.
I feel my heart sink when I'm without my dog, which is something non-dog owners probably struggle to understand. "They're just animals!", right? "Don't they just lie around for 22 hours a day?"
They do. But that's not all they do. They force you up out of bed every day, even when you really, really don't want to get up (hence dogs are used in medical/therapeutic environments for depression treatment) Dogs physically lean right up against you (or even lie on you) and provide warm-blooded contact. They reduce your stress levels with their forever-positive attitudes. They give you a sense of purpose because they rely on you, and they love you unconditionally.
If that's not good for the heart, I don't know what is.
Dogs are known for being a conduit for getting you to be a more sociable person, too. A 2015 American study suggests they provide people with a passage to getting to know people, friendship formation, and social support.
I find this to be incredibly accurate. As a dog owner, I talk to strangers every single day. My dog makes me more extroverted. I strike up conversations in parks, on beaches, outside shops, and with all my neighbours. Dogs are a talking point. What's more, they make you look easy and approachable; a person with a dog is a "good person". You're committed to the responsibility of a dog, so it's thought you're probably also a nice guy/girl.
Dog owners make friends with non-dog owners, too, because others think your pet is so damn adorable. They want a piece of the action.
Speaking of how these four-legged friends will help your heart, they are shockingly good in attracting dates. Honestly, why bother with Tinder? Spend an hour at a busy cafe with a dog and dozens of people will interact with you. They're the supreme dude/chick magnet – even if a relationship doesn't work out, your "other significant other" will mend your broken heart faster.
I need dogs' little beating hearts in my life every single day, even when travelling (which is why I wish all hotels had resident dogs this one in Aspen, Colorado). (link: https://www.travelandleisure.com/animals/kitty-the-bernese-mountain-dog-st-regis-aspen) Dogs help us live better, longer lives. Over the age of 65, having a canine friend even results in 30 per cent doctor's visits each year, so I'm going to be a dog owner until I die. I reckon the heart benefits of having one will prolong how long (and how well) I'm on this earth for.