Owning a dog is not by itself linked to better physical health, but walking a dog is, according to new research.
Investigators compared physical health and health behaviors in three groups: 500 individuals who did not have a dog, 98 people who owned dogs but did not walk them, and 173 dog owners who did walk their pets. All study participants, part of a large nationwide sample, were at least 50 years old.
According to the research, published in The Gerontologist in March 2016, dog walkers had better health than non-dog walkers, according to several measures, including fewer chronic health conditions, lower body mass index (BMI), fewer limitations on activities of daily living, and fewer doctor visits. Dog walking also was linked to getting more moderate and vigorous exercise.
Dog owners who did not walk their dogs generally cited reasons related to their dog’s behavior (such as, “he is not well behaved”) or the dog’s characteristics (for example, “she doesn’t like to walk”).
Dog walkers walked their pets from one to 12 times a day, spending about 30 minutes at each walk. Those with the greatest emotional attachment to their pets were most likely to walk their dog and to spend more time doing so.
The bottom line
If someone else has been walking your dog, consider doing it yourself. And if you’ve been on the fence about adding a dog to your household, these findings may help you make a decision.
Marian Freedman is a freelance medical editor and writer based in Watchung, NJ. She is a contributing editor to Contemporary Pediatrics, as well as chief editor for MedEdits, a medical education consulting firm.