Walking the dog unleashes health perks for seniors

woman walks dog in jacket

A new study links walking the dog with lower body mass index, fewer doctor visits, more frequent exercise, and an increase in social benefits among older adults.

“Our study explored the associations between dog ownership and pet bonding with walking behavior and health outcomes in older adults,” says Rebecca Johnson, a professor at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, and professor of gerontological nursing in the Sinclair School of Nursing. “This study provides evidence for the association between dog walking and physical health using a large, nationally representative sample.”

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults of all ages should engage in 150 or more minutes of moderate physical activity per week. Among adults 60 years of age or more, walking is the most common form of leisure-time physical activity because it is self-paced, low impact, and does not require equipment.

The study analyzes 2012 data from the Health and Retirement study sponsored by the National Institute on Aging and the Social Security Administration. The study includes data about human-animal interactions, physical activity, frequency of doctor visits, and health outcomes of the participants.

“Our results showed that dog ownership and walking were related to increases in physical health among older adults,” says Johnson, who also serves as director of the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction. “These results can provide the basis for medical professionals to recommend pet ownership for older adults and can be translated into reduced health care expenditures for the aging population.”

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Results from the study also indicate that people with higher degrees of pet bonding were more likely to walk their dogs and to spend more time walking their dogs each time than those who reported weaker bonds. Additionally, the study shows that pet walking offers a means to socialize with pet owners and others.

Retirement communities also could be encouraged to incorporate more pet-friendly policies such as including dog-walking trails and dog exercise areas so that their residents could have access to the health benefits, Johnson says.

The study appears in the journal The Gerontologist. Angela L. Curl of Miami University and Jessica Bibbo of the University of Missouri also contributed to the study.

Source: University of Missouri

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