By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — There’s more health benefits about having a dog. A lot of smaller studies have shown that having a canine companion can lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol and reduce the risk of depression, but now, larger research looks at what happens to dog owners after a stroke or heart attack.

In a new study, researchers looked at 181,000 patients who had a heart attack or stroke and if dog ownership had an impact on repeat episodes.

“What they found was that those dog owners actually had a lower risk of having recurrent cardiovascular events,” Dr. Luke Laffin, of the Cleveland Clinic, said.

The study showed dog owners, who lived alone, had a 33% reduced risk of death when compared with people who suffered a heart attack and lived alone without a dog.

Researchers say dog owners tend to be more active by playing catch in the park or with daily walks, as they’re outside and moving, which is good for heart health.

Dogs also provide companionship, so it’s possible that dog owners have less loneliness and they tend to have more social interaction with other humans.

Previous studies have shown that depression and loneliness can increase the risk of heart disease.

Even if you don’t have a dog, doctors say people can still mimic the benefits of owning one for the sake of their heart health.

“They can go out for regular physical activity – maybe a walk, jog; even classes like yoga, swimming – those are all great activities that you don’t need a pet to do,” Laffin said.

Researchers say what sets dogs apart from other pets, in terms of health benefits for humans, is their need to go for walks and people who get more regular physical activity live longer, healthier lives.

Stephanie Stahl