To get healthy, get a dog

MICHIGAN STATE (US) — Man’s best friend may also be health care’s secret weapon. People who own and walk a dog are 34 percent more likely to meet federal benchmarks for physical activity.

“Walking is the most accessible form of physical activity available to people,” says Matthew Reeves, professor of epidemiology at Michigan State University.

“What we wanted to know was if dog owners who walked their dogs were getting more physical activity or if the dog-walking was simply a substitute for other forms of activity.”

The study, appearing in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, found that not only did owning and walking a dog impact the amount of walking a person does but also that dog walkers were more active overall, generally walking about an hour longer per week than people who owned dogs but did not walk them.

“Obviously you would expect dog walkers to walk more, but we found people who walked their dog also had higher overall levels of both moderate and vigorous physical activities,” Reeves says.

“There appears to be a strong link between owning and walking a dog and achieving higher levels of physical activity, even after accounting for the actual dog walking.”

The study analyzed the amount of leisure-time physical activity a person gets, including sports participation, exercise conditioning, and recreational activities such as walking, dancing, and gardening.

Public health benchmarks call for at least 150 minutes of such activity a week.

“There is no magic bullet in getting people to reach those benchmarks,” Reeves says, “but owning and walking a dog has a measurable impact.”

Middle-age people have the least amount of time to walk their dogs; younger and older people get the most physical activity benefit; dogs 1 year old or younger were more likely to be walked than older dogs; and larger breed dogs (those more than 45 pounds) were walked for a longer duration than smaller dogs.

“The findings suggest public health campaigns that promote the responsible ownership of a dog along with the promotion of dog walking may represent a logical opportunity to increase physical activity,” Reeves says.

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