The latest research on the benefits of owning a dog is making headlines around the world.
Researchers from the University of Liverpool in the UK have just published an article in Scientific Reports that shows that dog owners are more likely to meet physical activity guidelines than people who don’t own a dog.
While the study was limited to 385 households in West Cheshire UK, the preliminary evidence is pretty convincing, even if more research needs to be done. And it backs up previous research indicating that dog owners are more physically active than their dog-less counterparts.
What’s unique about the new study is that it doesn’t just look at the physical activity of the person mainly responsible for pet care in the home – it looked at the physical activity levels of everyone who lives in a home with a dog, including children.
And it looks like everyone benefits.
Results indicated that dog owners were far more likely to walk for recreation and walk for longer periods of time than non-dog-owners.
Those with furry friends were also four times more likely to meet the UK’s recommended goal of 150 minutes a week of physical activity.
And children with dogs were just as likely to be more active – they reported more minutes of walking per week as well as more time spent doing active, unstructured activity (which has been shown in previous studies to be good for their physical and emotional well-being).
The type of dog a person owns had no effect on the health benefits – so big or small, all dogs seemed to encourage people to get up and move more.
Previous studies have also shown that dog ownership is associated with lower risk of early death, and a lower risk of cardiovascular issues as well.
Of course, not all dog owners walk their dogs – some simply let them out into the yard. The evidence applies to those who actually play with and walk their dogs.
And there are other caveats. For example, if walking the dog takes priority over more intense exercise, that’s not a good thing. When dog walking prevents you from heading to the gym, it’s not necessarily a health boost.
The study is also fairly unique to the UK because people are socially expected to walk their dogs daily. Fenced yards are less common than in the U.S., so people across the pond are more likely to talk daily dog walks.
Dr. Carri Westgarth, the lead author of the study concluded:
“Our findings provide support for the role of pet dogs in promoting and maintaining positive health behaviors such as walking. Without dogs, it is likely that population physical activity levels would be much lower.”
She also suggested that city planners take this into account when creating pet-friendly housing, parks, and other dog-walking-friendly infrastructure.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that if you’re looking to improve your health and fitness that you should rush out and get a dog! Owning a pet is a big undertaking and you need to be sure you have the time and space to properly care for a pet.
It’s not fair to an animal if you bring it home simply to use in place of a treadmill. Make sure you’re ready before you commit.
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Source: Scientific Reports