May 14, 2016

Walking a Dog Is Good for Your Health

This article is interesting and could be just what is needed. The missing information in this study is the cost of pet ownership – vet fees, pet food, leashes, cleaning supplies, insurance costs, city licensing fees, pet care when on vacation, and shelter costs.

Having grown up with dogs and cats, I love them, but I very happy that the apartment I rent forbids them. Therefore, I have none of the costs and maintaining a pet in the city can be expensive. Many insurance companies will not issue insurance on certain breeds.

The research suggests that walking the dog may be a healthy activity for older Americans. Dog walking helps cut back on excess weight and the overall need to visit a physician while raising overall moderate and vigorous exercise levels among the over-60 set, investigators found.

Strong emotional bonds are formed between the owner and pet creating social benefits. This also encourages increased contact with other pet owners.

Study lead author Angela Curl, says, "There is a wealth of evidence that walking is beneficial for people's physical health." She is an assistant professor in the department of family studies and social work at Miami University, in Oxford, Ohio.

What makes dog walking unique is the relationship between people and their dogs, as well as the ways dogs can motivate walking behavior. Other studies have shown dogs' needs provide a motivation to get out and walk. Our findings illustrate that the emotional bond people have with their dogs may play an important role in getting out to walk.

Curl and her colleagues discussed their work in a recent issue of The Gerontologist. The authors noted that in 2014, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that all adults, regardless of age, rack up a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate activity every week. Walking happens to be the most frequent exercise activity among adults 60 and up.

To explore the impact of dog ownership on that, the investigating team analyzed data involving a nationally representative sample of 771 men and women (50 years old and up) collected in 2012 by the Health and Retirement Study. That investigation was conducted at the University of Michigan, with funding from the U.S. National Institute on Aging. Just over a third of the participants (271) owned at least one dog. Pet ownership involving other types of animals was not considered.

A portion of the dog owners group was asked questions to gauge pet "bonding," including whether they considered their dog a friend, and whether they talked about their dog with others. Frequency and overall time spent walking was also assessed, as were overall walking habits, walking speed and total distance walked per week.

The result: While owning a dog was not directly associated with having better overall health among those 60 and up, it was associated with a lower body mass index (a measure of weight and obesity status); fewer physical limitations; less frequent visits to a doctor; and more routine exercise. The study didn't prove a cause-and-effect relationship, however.

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