(WAND) – Two studies say dog owners live longer and fare better after a heart attack or stroke.

Being a dog owner was associated with a 24 percent reduced risk of death from any cause among the general public, and a 33 percent lower risk of death among heart attack survivors who live alone, according to the Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

“I don’t think that this is what many people think about when adopting a dog,” said Dr. Haider Warraich, director of the heart failure program at the Boston VA Healthcare System, who was not involved with the new research. “They think they’re doing it for the animal, not for their own health. But these studies suggest that adopting a dog may be as much of a service to your own health as the dog’s.”

Data from the Swedish National Patient Register included information from Swedes ages 40 to 85 who had had a heart attack or stroke between January 2001 and December 2012, with data from the Swedish Kennel Club and the Swedish Board of Agriculture dog registers.

After accounting for factors such as age, other health issues, marital status, the presence of children in the home and income, the researchers found that heart attack survivors who lived alone had a 33 percent lower risk of death in the year after their heart attack if they had a dog, compared with non-dog owners. Among those who did not live alone, the reduction in risk was smaller, at 15 percent.

What sets dogs apart from other pets, in terms of health benefits for humans, is their need to go for walks, Dr. Caroline Kramer, an endocrinologist and clinician scientist at the University of Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital said.

“As a dog owner myself I can see the benefits,” she added. “My step counting really went up after I got a dog.”

While the studies don’t prove that dog ownership leads to longer lives — they can only show associations, not causation — there have been studies showing that the companionship of a dog can lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, said Neda Gould, an assistant professor and director of the Mindfulness Program at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Researchers say if you are worried about the responsibility of being a dog owner you should start small, by getting a fish. Even those kinds of pets can provide a benefit, albeit a smaller one.