March 15, 2011 -- Man's best friend helps motivate pet owners to move, it seems, and not only when Fido's in tow.
A new study suggests dog walkers are more likely to get the amount of exercise recommended by the U.S. government. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate aerobic exercise each week.
Michigan-based researchers wanted to know if people who walked their dogs were more active overall, or if dog walking was just a substitute for other aerobic exercise. They conducted their study using information from the Michigan Behavioral Risk Factor Survey, an annual health survey conducted by the CDC and the Michigan Department of Community Health.
The study revealed that people who own and regularly walk a dog are 34% more likely to get at least 150 minutes of exercise each week. Dog walkers had more leisure-time physical activity overall. In addition to dog walking, their activities included dancing, gardening, and playing sports. Regular dog walkers generally walked about one hour a week longer than pet owners who didn't often take the dog for a stroll.
"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," Michigan State University researcher Mathew Reeves says in a news release. "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 researchers also found that:
- About two-thirds of dog owners regularly walk their dog.
- Middle-age dog owners said they had the least amount of time to walk their dogs.
- Younger dogs went for more walks with their owners than older dogs.
- Large dogs (over 45 pounds) were taken for longer walks than smaller ones.
The study is published in the current issue of the Journal of Physical Activity and Health.
The researchers say their findings suggest that public health campaigns to promote responsible dog ownership and dog walking could be an effective way to boost Americans' physical activity level.
"There is no magic bullet in getting people to reach those [federal physical activity] benchmarks," Reeves says in the news release. "But owning and walking a dog has a measurable impact."