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Dog-walking a good activity boost for older adults, researchers say

Walking the dog
Photo: svetikd/iStockphoto

London – Older adults who take care of man’s best friend tend to be more active, a study conducted by British researchers has found.

Researchers at the University of East Anglia and the University of Cambridge’s Center for Diet and Activity Research examined data from 3,123 participants ages 50 to 92 from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition study for the English county of Norfolk. The participants wore electronic devices to measure physical activity for seven days and filled out questionnaires.

Approximately 18 percent of the participants had a dog. Of those, two-thirds reported walking their pets at least once a day. Even in the worst weather conditions – which often cause people to stay indoors – participants who walked their dogs were 20 percent more active and were sedentary for 30 fewer minutes per day than those who didn’t own dogs.

“Physical activity interventions typically try and support people to be active by focusing on the benefits to themselves, but dog walking is also driven by the needs of the animal,” lead co-author Andy Jones, from the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School, said in a July 25 press release. “Being driven by something other than our own needs might be a really potent motivator, and we need to find ways of tapping into it when designing exercise interventions in the future.”

The researchers caution against blanket promotion of dog ownership, as not everyone is able to look after a pet, but noted that the findings of the study “point to new directions for programmers to support activity.”

The study was published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

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