Are there more benefits to having a dog as a pet than just a great companion? A recent study by MSU has shown that people who walk their dogs are more likely to meet federal activity benchmarks.
Do dog walkers get more exercise?
Mathew Reeves, an epidemiologist, said the findings show that dog ownership and dog walking could help many individuals. Fewer than half of Americans meet the recommended levels of leisure-time physical activity. Those who walk their dogs are 34% more likely to meet the government’s benchmarks.
“Walking is a readily accessible form of physical activity available to most people,” Reeves said. “What we wanted to find out is if dog owners who walked their dogs were actually getting more physical activity or if the dog-walking was simply a substitute for other activities.”
Dog Walking Improves Health
Using the data from the Michigan Behavioral Risk Factor Survey as a base, the research team found that in addition to raising the amount of walking for dog owners, they are more active overall.
“Obviously you expect dog walkers to walk more, but we found people who walk their dog also had higher levels of both moderate and vigorous physical activities”. He continues, “There seems to be a strong link between owning and walking a dog and experiencing higher levels of physical activity, even after we account for the actual dog walking.”
The study also analyzed the amount of leisure-based physical activity a person gets; examples include sports participation, exercise conditioning and recreational activities such as walking, dancing and gardening. Federal health benchmarks call for at least 150 minutes of such activity per week.
“There is no simple answer in getting people to reach those benchmarks,” Reeves said. “But it’s clear that owning and walking a dog has a measurable impact.”
Bonding Increases Quality Of Life
Reeves also pointed out the social and human/animal bond aspects of owning a dog that has been shown to have a positive impact on quality of life. Since only about 2/3rds of dog owners reported regularly walking their dogs, Reeves said dog ownership is an opportunity to increase overall physical activity.
Other findings in the study revealed that 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 study can be found at http://journals.humankinetics.com/. Contributing authors to the research include Ann Rafferty, Corinne Miller and Sarah Lyon-Callo, all with the Michigan Department of Community Health.
Dog Ownership and Physical Activity: A Review of the Evidence
Contact: Jason Cody
University Relations, Office: (517) 432-0924
Mathew Reeves, Department of Epidemiology
Office: (517) 353-8623, firstname.lastname@example.org