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Updated 02 August 2017

Walk your dog for better health

Senior adults are much healthier and more active when they walk their dogs, even for just 30 minutes per day, research suggests.

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Dogs are known for providing their owners with joy and companionship. But new research suggests that besides being your best friend, your dog could also serve as your personal trainer.

The study found that dog walking gives a significant boost to older adults' exercise levels year-round. Researchers looked at more than 3 000 older adults in England. Dog owners who walked their pooch got an average of 30 minutes more physical activity a day than other participants.

The dog walking-linked boost in activity was especially noticeable in the winter when days are shorter, colder and wetter, the study authors said.

Less time sitting

"We found that dog walkers were much more physically active and spent less time sitting overall. We expected this, but when we looked at how the amount of physical activity participants undertook each day varied by weather conditions, we were really surprised at the size of the differences between those who walked dogs and the rest of the study participants," said study lead author Yu-Tzu Wu, of the University of Cambridge.

And, project leader Andy Jones said, "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." He is a professor at Norwich School of Medicine, at the University of East Anglia.

"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," Jones added in a university news release.

We all need physical activity

The researchers noted that owning a dog is not a good idea for all older adults due to the demands of looking after a pet, but said their findings suggest new ideas to increase physical activity.

"Physical activity interventions typically try and support people to be active by focusing on the benefits to themselves, but dog walking is also driven by the needs of the animal. Being driven by something other than our own needs might be a really potent motivator and we need to find ways of tapping into it when designing exercise interventions in the future," Jones said. The findings were published July 24 in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

What's also interesting, is that a healthy pooch equals a healthy owner, as a previous study mentioned on Health24 suggests. This study has shown that a dog's behaviour can be tracked to indicate the soundness of its owner. Senior adults who are still capable to care for their dogs, are thus easier to monitor for health. And it also has been shown that dog owners will be more fitter for longer in their lives. So what are you waiting for? Go get the leash and take Fido for a brisk walk.

 
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