If you want to live longer, adopt a dog from a hunting breed — especially if you are single.

Results from a study in Sweden show that people with dogs are less likely to die of cardiovascular disease and have an overall lower risk of mortality. The research, published in the journal Scientific Reports, suggests that single people get the greatest benefit from having a dog and certain breeds have a stronger effect on their humans than others.

Researchers have long asserted that having a dog has health benefits, one reason being that walking a dog gets people off the couch and moving. They also are a friend to people who would otherwise feel lonely. But the direct link between dogs and cardiovascular health has been unclear.

This study, which used data from more than 3.4 million adults and looked at their health over the course of 12 years, adds to evidence that having a dog is positively associated with cardiovascular health.

According to the scientists, dog owners had a lower mortality risk in general and saw a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. The greatest benefits to cardiovascular health was in single-person households and for people with dogs that were bred for hunting, and in the general population “ownership of all purebred breeds were associated with a lower risk of all-cause mortality.”

dog-zoe-ballerina Owning a dog might lower a person's risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. Photo: Elana Glowatz

Hunting breeds include hounds, retrievers, terriers and other kinds of dogs.

Single people were found to walk their dogs more often than those who lived in multiple-person households and they may have been interacting more with their dogs in general.

“Perhaps a dog may stand in as an important family member in the single households,” researcher Mwenya Mubanga said in a statement from Uppsala University. “The results showed that single dog owners had a 33 percent reduction in risk of death and 11 percent reduction in risk of myocardial infarction during follow-up compared to single non-owners.”

The researchers note that the association does not mean the dogs are causing a lower mortality risk.

“It is still possible that personal characteristics that we did not have information about affect the choice of not only acquiring a dog, but also the breed and the risk of [cardiovascular disease],” the study says.

But it adds that the companionship of dogs might prevent depression and loneliness, stressors that can have an effect on that disease, which is the leading cause of death around the world, or on other health conditions.

“Apart from the social support,” according to the study, “it has consistently been shown that dog owners achieve more physical activity and spend more time engaged in outdoor activities.”