Owning a dog can bring big health benefits for seniors: study

File: Dog Park.
File: Dog Park. AP Photo/Richard Vogel, file

Getting up off the couch can be a challenge regardless of your age, but new research shows that having a furry, four-legged reason to go for a walk can help seniors reach physical activity targets.

Seniors who own a dog spend an average of 22 more minutes per day staying active, a new study has found, and take an additional 2,760 steps per day.

READ MORE: New study shows sedentary seniors are older than their chronological age

Researchers tracked activity between two groups, comparing 43 people with dogs and 43 people without dogs. The subjects wore activity trackers during three, one-week periods over the span of a year.

All subjects were over the age of 65 and lived in the U.K., with gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic status taken into consideration when comparing data.

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“For good health WHO recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a week,” said lead researcher Dr Philippa Dall, in a release. “Over the course of a week this additional 20 minutes walking each day may in itself be sufficient to meet these guidelines.

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“Our findings represent a meaningful improvement in physical activity achieved through dog walking.”

Canadian health guidelines also recommend that adults are active for at least 150 minutes a week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more. Reaching the activity goal helps reduce a whole host of issues including the risk of heart disease and stroke, certain types of cancer and weight control problems.

Owning a dog could be a key to helping older adults reach that target without even realizing it, said researcher Nancy Gee, study co-author.

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“Ultimately, our research will provide insights into how pet ownership may help older people achieve higher levels of physical activity, which could improve their prospects for a better quality of life, help with cognition, and perhaps, even promote overall longevity,” Gee said.

Along with helping keep you active, dogs in the home have been found to improve mental health in children, and help soothe stress for travellers nervous about their flight and students during exams.

Pets have even been shown to help people recovering from drug addictions.

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There were an estimated 7.6 million pet dogs in Canada in 2016, according to the Canadian Animal Health Institute, with a dog in more than 40 per cent of Canadian households.

The study, by researchers from at the University of Lincoln and Glasgow Caledonian University in collaboration with WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition, is published in the journal BMC Public Health.


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