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Dog walking could help Americans meet physical activity goals

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Dog walking study

Owning and walking a dog could have measurable benefits for helping Americans meet activity goals to thwart disease and improve health. The findings, say the authors of a study showing the benefits, suggest public heath campaigns could reasonably begin to promote dog ownership to promote physical activity.

Dog walkers more active overall

Investigators from Michigan State University conducted the study that showed people who owned and waked their dogs were 34 percent more likely to reach federal guidelines for leisure-time physical activity of 150 minutes a week - guidelines that less than half of Americans currently meet.

The study, published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health also found people who walk dogs engaged in higher levels of physical activity.

Epidemiologist Mathew Reeves says, "Obviously you would expect dog walkers to walk more, but we found people who walked their dog also had higher overall levels of both moderate and vigorous physical activities. There appears to be a strong link between owning and walking a dog and achieving higher levels of physical activity, even after accounting for the actual dog walking."

The results come from annual health survey data extracted from the Michigan Behavioral Risk Factor Survey, a collaborative effort the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Michigan Department of Community Health.

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People who walk their dogs add an hour longer than those who own but don't walk their pet.

Examples of leisure-time activity analyzed in the study included playing sports, exercise conditioning and walking, dancing and gardening.

The study authors also found difference in activity related to type and age of the dog owned. People were more likely to walk dogs under 1 year of age, and take longer walks with larger breeds. They also found middle-age adults obtained the least benefit of dog ownership because of time constraints, compared to younger and older people.

Reeves says dog walking is a good way to promote leisure-time physical activity that can help people get more active and healthier. Not to be discarded as a health benefit is the bonding that occurs between humans and animals that improves quality of life.

In the study, two-thirds of people reported walking their dogs that the study suggests could help Americans meet federal guidelines of 150 minutes of leisure-time activity weekly.

JPAH Volume 8, Issue 3, March
"The Impact of Dog Walking on Leisure-Time Physical Activity: Results From a Population-Based Survey of Michigan Adults"
Mathew J. Reeves, Ann P. Rafferty, Corinne E. Miller, Sarah K. Lyon-Callo

Updated May 10, 2016