Owning a dog not only brings many people joy, but it may actually make them healthier people.

A recent study on Oct. 8 by the American Heart Association notes that owning a dog lowers the risk of death by a heart attack or stroke by 31 percent. Compared to non-owners, it also reduced the risk of all-cause mortality by 24 percent. Caroline Kramer, assistant professor of Medicine at the University of Toronto, said having a dog is associated with increased physical activity, which lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Laura Jamison, a stroke survivor from and dog owner Fort Mill said, “my next-door neighbors at our lake house just lost their two dogs within just a month or so of each other. I’m like how can you stay in the house . . . being so empty there’s like nobody there, so if I didn’t have Lucy and Mia, I’d probably just go nuts.”

The AHA study notes that social isolation is bad for health, so owning a dog can be a great way to decrease depression and loneliness.

Shawn Arent, exercise science chair at the University of South Carolina said, “we also know that petting an animal lowers blood pressure [and] it helps reduce heart rate. There’s other stress mitigating factors that go with it, so I think some of it is that human/animal bond that is on the social side, and then the other part is the role of hoping the dog helps with overall activity status too.”

Arent added that pet owners can get their dose of physical activity by walking their dogs, rather than just opening the door and putting them outside.

Tove Fall, professor at Uppsala University in Sweden explained that keeping a dog creates motivation for physical activity, which is an important factor in mental health.

Jeff Boulware is a dog owner from Fort Mill who lives alone since his wife passed away a couple years ago. His dog, Trump, keeps him moving more so than if he didn’t own a dog. 

“We walk not a long way anymore because of his age, but we do get up and do walking at least twice a day,” Boulware said.

Kramer said, “the next step on this topic would be an interventional study to evaluate cardiovascular outcomes after adopting a dog and the social and psychological benefits of dog ownership.”

Stroke survivor, Laura Jamison plays with her dog Lucy in the backyard.