Dog owners who walk their pets outside are more likely to have regular exercise habits, regardless of weather, according to a new study.
Regular dog walkers were more active on days with cold, rainy weather - and on days with the worst weather conditions, they had 20 percent higher activity levels and were more active for 30 minutes per day, compared to people who didn’t have dogs.
“As we get older, we decline in the amount of physical activity we get, and we tend to be less active at the time in our lives when it’s best to be active,” said study author Andy Jones of the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK.
Jones and colleagues analyzed data collected as part of a large study of community-dwelling adults ages 40 to 79 in Norfolk, UK. Overall, the average age was around 70, and 57 percent were female.
Participants wore accelerometers to record their daily physical activity and sedentary behavior. They also answered questions about environmental conditions, age, education, gender, health status and pet ownership.
Among the more than 3,100 study subjects, 18 percent owned dogs, and two-thirds of those walked their dogs at least once a day. Regular dog walkers were consistently more active, regardless of weather and environmental conditions, and those who reported good health were more likely to be dog owners who walked their dogs regularly.
Overall, daily activity was lower on days with rain, colder temperatures and shorter daylight hours. On dry days, however, regular dog walkers still got outside, even if it was cold. In fact, on average, regular dog walkers were more active on the coldest days than non-regular dog walkers or non-dog-owners were on the warmest days. Regular dog-walkers were also more active on the shortest days than non-walkers and non-owners were on the longest days.
“It’s no surprise that dog walkers are more active, but we were surprised by how big the difference is,” Jones said. “If we could achieve that level of activity with everybody, it would go a long way in dealing with problems of obesity and aging.”
Importantly, even dog-owners who don’t walk their dogs regularly are less sedentary than people without dogs, pointed out Ann Toohey of the University of Calgary in Canada. Toohey, who wasn’t involved with this study, studies aging, dog-walking and neighborhood communities.
“Various aspects of taking care of a dog, such as letting them in and outside, feeding them, playing with them, grooming them and cleaning up after them, may help to explain this,” she told Reuters Health by email. “I think we need to take note and explore further the benefits of pets in daily living.”
“Taking the time to engage in physical activity has important health benefits, and walking is recommended because it is low-cost and can be done alone or with others,” said Angela Curl, who researches environment, the human-animal bond, and older adults’ physical health at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
Curl, who wasn’t involved with this study, told Reuters Health by email, “Dog owners have a visual reminder to get up and exercise that can provide the motivation to walk. Non-dog owners can find alternative ways to engage in physical activity during inclement weather, such as walking indoors.”
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