Everyone knows that physical activity is necessary for achieving good health. However, researchers have found that having a dog to tag along can bring additional benefits.
Adults are advised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. Any kind of physical activity will do but those who are 60 years old and above usually turn to walking as it is doesn't require equipment, self-paced and low impact. Those who are also pet owners have shown that taking the dog for a walk can result in fewer visits to the doctor, increased social benefits, lower body mass indexes and more frequent exercise.
According to Rebecca Johnson, a professor at the MU College of Veterinary Medicine and colleagues, their research explored the association between pet bonding and owning a dog with walking behavior and the corresponding health outcomes in senior adults.
"Our results showed that dog ownership and walking were related to increases in physical health among older adults," said Johnson.
According to her, these results can be used as basis by medical professionals in recommending pet ownership to senior adults, a move that has the potential to reduce health care expenses for the aging population.
Published in the journal The Gerontologist, the study used data from 2012 collected by the Health and Retirement study, a project sponsored by the Social Security Administration and the National Institute on Aging. The said data included information on interactions between humans and animals, frequency of doctor visits, health outcomes and the physical activity level of all participants.
The researchers discovered that people who have higher levels of bonding with their pets were not only likelier to walk their dogs but were also likelier to do so for longer periods each time compared to their counterparts who have weaker pet bonds.
On top of the physical activity, an added benefit of walking dogs is that pet owners get to socialize with other pet owners and other people at large, which promotes good social and mental health.
Given the benefits they saw that dog ownership offers senior adults, the researchers encourage retirement communities to adopt more pet-friendly practices, like having dog exercise areas and walking trails.
Aside from Johnson, Angela Curl and Jessica Bibbo also contributed to the study.
Photo: Alan Levine | Flickr