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. The reason is because it is self-paced, low impact and does not require equipment. Researchers at the University of Missouri have determined that older adults who also are pet owners benefit from the bonds. As the result, they form with their canine companions. Further, dog walking is associated with lower body mass index, fewer doctor visits, more frequent exercise and an increase in social benefits for seniors.
Walking behavior and health outcomes
“Our study explored the associations between dog ownership and pet bonding with walking behavior and health outcomes in older adults,” said Rebecca Johnson, a professor at the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, and the Millsap 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.”
Increases in physical health
The study analyzed 2012 data from the Health and Retirement study. The National Institute on Aging and the Social Security Administration also sponsored for it. The study included 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,” said Johnson, who also serves as director of the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at MU. “These results can provide the basis for medical professionals. This is to recommend pet ownership for older adults. Moreover, it can be translated into reduced health care expenditures for the aging population.”
Offers a means to socialize
Obviously, results from the study also indicated 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 showed 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 said.
The Gerontologist did publish the study recently, “Dog Walking, the Human-Animal Bond and Older Adults’ Physical Health”. Angela L. Curl, assistant professor in the Department of Family Studies and Social Work at Miami University, and Jessica Bibbo, a graduate student at MU, contributed to the study.
Materials provided by University of Missouri Health. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.