Dogs Are Good For Your Health

The take home message is get a dog and walk it.

Posted Nov 18, 2013

Dogs are good for your health. Many studies have been conducted examining the relationship between pet ownership and human health. Pet ownership has physiological, psychological, and social advantages. Some variables which have been studied include: rates of cardiovascular disease, blood pressure, frequency of doctor visits, social interaction, extraversion, and community. For a very nice review see Wood (2005). But, the simplest and most obvious advantage of owning a dog is exercise. It seems that dog owners would get more exercise by simply getting out of the house and walking their dogs.

Studies have compared recreational walking in pet owners to non-pet owners and rates of walking prior to getting a dog and afterward. Several large scale studies have been conducted. Bauman, et al. (2008) studied 2199 adult residents in Seattle, WA and Baltimore, MD and found that more dog walkers met the national requirements for minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) than non-dog walkers (53% vs. 33%) and there were significantly fewer obese dog walkers than non-dog walkers. In a study of 41,514 Californians, it was found that dog owners walked an average of 19 more minutes than non-pet owners. Ham and Epping (2006) found that 80% of dog owners took at least one daily walk and 60% took two or more daily walks. Furthermore, there were no significant differences in sex, family income, or level of urbanization. Brown and Rhodes (2006) found that Canadian dog owners walked an average of 300 minutes per week compared to 168 minutes in non-dog owners. Cutt et al. (2008) compared non-dog owners to people who recently acquired a dog. They found that the increase in walking after acquiring a dog was 30 minutes per day. Done five times a week, this meets national expectations for weekly exercise.

The benefits of walking a dog extend to children, whole families, and the elderly. Physical Activity (PA) of Australian children aged 5-6 and 10-12 and their families who owned dogs was studied by Salmon, et. al. (2010). Unfortunately, almost half of families who owned a dog never walked their dog. However, girls, mothers, and whole families who walked the dog together got significantly more physical exercise than those who did not walk their dogs. Similarly, older adults (71 to 82 years) who regularly walked their dogs showed significantly better mobility than those who didn’t (Thorpe, et al. 2006).

Dog owners of all ages, nationalities, and socioeconomic levels walk more than non-dog owners. Given the growing rates of obesity, dog walking may be a simple way to encourage more exercise. Recreational walking is low impact and inexpensive. Nearly everyone can participate in mild to moderate walking. According to Barry Franklin (2006) in Walking: the Undervalued Prescription, “walking is the most accessible and easily regulated exercise that can enhance health and cardiorespiratory fitness.”

References

Bauman, A., Schroeder, J., Furber, S., &Dobson, A. (2001). The epidemiology of dog walking: An unmet need for human and canine health. Medical Journal of Australia, 175, 632-634.

Brown, S.G. and Rhodes, R.E. Relationships among dog ownership and leisure-time walking in Western Canadian adults. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2006, 30(2): 131-136.

Cutt, H.E., Knuiman, M.W., and Giles-Corti B. Does getting a dog increase recreational walking? The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 2008, 5:17.

Franklin, B.A. Walking: the Undervalued Prescription. Preventive Cardiology. Winter 2006: 56-59.

Ham, S.A. and Eppping, J. Dog walking and physical activity in the United States. Preventing Chronic Disease. 2006, 3(2):A47.

Salmon, J., Timperio, A., Chu B., and Veitch, J. Dog ownership, dog walking, and children’s and parents’ physical activity. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 2010, 81(3):264-271.

Thorpe, R.J., Simonsick, E.M., Brach, J.S., Ayonayon, H., Satterfield, S., Harris, T.B., Garcia, M., Kritchevsky, S. B and for the Health, Aging and Body Composition Study (2006), Dog Ownership, Walking Behavior, and Maintained Mobility in Late life. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 54: 1419-1424.doi:10.1111/j.1532-5414.2006.00856.x.

Wood., L., Giles-Corti, B., and Bulsara, M. The pet connection: Pets as a conduit for social capital? Social Science & Medicine, 61 (2005) 1159-1173.