People who owned a dog were much more likely to fulfil physical activity guidelines, compared with people who didn’t. Public health research has linked dog ownership to a longer life and better heart health.

Is there a creature on the planet more enthusiastic about the prospect of a walk than the domestic dog? You might have first-hand experience of the beseeching eyes and frenzied tail-wagging of a beloved pooch eager to escape the backyard.

Sometimes we might resent the need to get out and about with our pet hounds, especially in the depths of winter, but it may be that we should be thanking them.

Researchers in this British study wanted to determine what influence, if any, a pet pooch had on a person’s propensity to undertake physical exercise. They surveyed 694 people in the UK’s West Cheshire. A little under a third of them owned a dog.

They were questioned about their overall levels of physical activity, how often they walked their dog (if they owned one), then measured this against physical activity guidelines for the area. In the UK, like in Australia, it’s recommended that people get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week.

The researchers found that people who owned dogs were four times more likely to fulfil the physical activity guidelines, compared to people who didn’t own a dog. Dog owners walked their dogs about seven times a week for about four hours. In all, 80 per cent of dog walkers met physical activity guidelines, compared to about 60 per cent of people who didn’t own dogs.

Interestingly, there was a smaller group of people who owned a dog but didn’t walk it and they were far less likely to meet the physical activity guidelines than any other group, with just 29 per cent getting enough physical activity. It wasn’t clear from the data why this group didn’t walk their dogs  but they tended to be younger, female, healthy and working.

Implications

Public health researchers are interested in dog ownership because having a canine companion is implicated in other positive health factors, like physical fitness and longer life expectancy.

The good news is that 39 per cent of Australian households own a dog – now we just need to work out how to get everyone out with their pooch more often.

Last Reviewed: 02/04/2020

© Norman Swan Medical Communications.



References

For reference: Westgarth, et al (2019). Dog owners are more likely to meet physical activity guidelines than people without a dog: An investigation of the association between dog ownership and physical activity levels in a UK community. Scientific Reports doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-41254-6.

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