- A new study shows older adults who own dogs are more physically active than non-dog owners
- Simply walking their pets caused dog parents in the study to meet internationally recognized exercise goals
- Researchers also observed that dog owners had fewer continuous periods of sitting down than non-dog owners
- Dogs also offer their owners many physical and emotional benefits beyond exercise, including alleviating loneliness and self-absorption
By Dr. Becker
A new study suggests older adults who are also dog parents are able to meet internationally recognized exercise goals as established by the World Health Organization (WHO) through the simple act of walking their canine companions.1
Study Compared Dog-Owning and Non-Dog Owning Older Adults
For the study, a team of U.K. researchers compared two groups of 43 older adults aged 65 to 81. One group consisted of dog owners (average dog age for the group was 8 years); the other group did not own dogs. All the seniors lived on their own, and members of the two groups were matched by gender, height, weight, health conditions and walking abilities.
All participants were British and Caucasian. About two-thirds were female, and the average participant was at least slightly overweight. The two groups were evaluated on their time spent walking. They wore monitors to track their movements for three one-week periods over the course of a year. The weeks were chosen so the participants’ steps could be measured during different seasons and weather conditions.
Past research on this topic has relied on self-reporting by participants as to their level of physical activity. The use of activity monitors in this study provided objective data on patterns and intensity of physical activity, as well as periods of sitting.
Dog Owners Walked More and Sat for Shorter Periods
The researchers discovered the dog-owning group walked an average of 22 minutes more per day than the dog-less group, which was enough to meet both U.S. and international exercise recommendations for substantial health benefits. And the extra exercise the dog walkers received was “marching,” not “just dawdling,” according to senior study author Dr. Daniel Simon Mills.
The additional 147 minutes dog owners spent walking at a moderate pace is just three minutes under WHO’s recommendation of at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous weekly physical activity.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation for adults is a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity a week. The researchers also found that dog owners had fewer continuous periods of sitting down than non-dog owners.
Dogs and Older Folks: It’s a Win-Win
Mills, who teaches veterinary behavioral medicine at the University of Lincoln in England, told Reuters Health:
“It’s very difficult to find any other intervention that produces this size of effect. It’s good evidence that dog ownership amongst the elderly increases physical activity in a meaningful and healthy way.”2
Mills feels the study proves that the exercise benefits of dog ownership stem from having dogs, not from the idea that dog owners are more active to begin with. The study also confirms earlier studies in which dog owners reported walking more, at a moderate pace, than non-dog owners.
However, the researchers conceded that since all the study participants were volunteers, they may have been more physically active than the general population. Study co-author Nancy Gee of the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition told EurekAlert!:
“Our results indicate that dog ownership may play an important role in encouraging older adults to walk more. Ultimately, our research will provide insights into how pet ownership may help older people achieve higher levels of physical activity or maintain their physical activity levels for a longer period of time, which could improve their prospects for a better quality of life, improved or maintained cognition, and perhaps, even overall longevity.”3