Pick up the leash: Study finds seniors who own dogs lead healthier, more active lives

NORWICH, England — For many of us, dogs truly are our best friends. From their loyalty and playfulness to their countless slobbery kisses, their excitement to simply be with their owners may do just the trick to put an extra spring in one’s step.

Now a new study finds that owning a dog helps older people to live healthier and more active lives.

Woman walking dogs
A new study finds that owning a dog can help older adults lead healthier and more active lives, particularly during colder months.

Researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR) at the University of Cambridge say that dog walking is one of the best ways to beat the decline in physical activity as one gets older. They encourage owners to get up and enjoy a dose of fresh air with them, not to mention forcing them to keep up while they’re pulling on the leash.

“We were amazed to find that dog walkers were on average more physically active and spent less time sitting on the coldest, wettest and darkest days than non-dog owners were on long, sunny, and warm summer days,” says project lead Andy Jones, a professor with the UEA’s Norwich Medical School, in a news release. “The size of the difference we observed between these groups was much larger than we typically find for interventions such as group physical activity sessions that are often used to help people remain active.”

The research consisted of analyzing data from a long-term study that tracks the health and well-being of thousands of people living in the region.

The 3,123 participants, men and women typically about 65 years old, wore an accelerometer to measure their physical activity as well as their sedentary inactivity over a seven-day period. They were asked if they owned a dog and if they walked one. Eighteen percent of people were dog owners and two-thirds of them took their dog for a stroll at least once a day.

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Because bad weather and shorter days are common reasons people stay indoors, the researchers made sure to record the weather conditions and sunrise and sunset times on each day of the study.

The results were telling: “Dog walkers were much more physically active and spent less time sitting overall,” says lead author Dr. Yu-Tzu Wu.

In fact, dog owners typically spend 30 minutes less sitting down per day (which is great considering the recent research that sitting for long periods of time carries serious health risks) then older people who don’t own dogs. The results were particularly notable during colder months when people are more likely to stay indoors.

Because owning a dog is not suitable for everyone based on their schedule or living arrangements, the researchers hope that this study will inspire new programs that allows non-dog owners to enjoy this activity. Local community charities, dog walking groups or even volunteering to walk dogs at a shelter can fulfill similar benefits.

Continue to walk with your furry companions, and they will continue to give you even more in return.

The full study is published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.


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