Owning a pet helps older adults stay active

09 June 2017

Owning a pet helps older adults stay active

Owning a dog may help older adults to meet physical activity levels recommended by the World Health Organization, according to a new study by Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU), the University of Lincoln, and WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition.

The research published in the open access journal BMC Public Health suggests that health professionals could encourage dog ownership or shared care of a dog to motivate older adults to be more physically active. The researchers concluded that owing a dog indicated a large, potential health improvement with dog owners walking an additional 22 minutes more a day at a moderate pace.

The study paired 43 dog owners and non-dog owners with similar lifestyles and asked participants to wear a specific device, an activPAL monitor, to objectively gather active data of dog-owing and non-dog owning. Study participants were aged 65 years and over and wore the active monitor continuously for three, one-week periods over the course of a year.

GCU's Dr Philippa Dall, Senior Research Fellow and lead researcher, said: “Dog owners were found to walk over 20 minutes more a day and this additional walking was at a moderate pace. For good health, WHO recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a week. Over the course of a week, this additional 20 minutes walking each day may in itself be sufficient to meet these guidelines. Our findings represent a meaningful improvement in physical activity achieved through dog walking.”

The researchers monitored the time spent walking moderately, time spent standing, total time spent sitting, as well as the number of times people sat down and how long they sat for. The researchers also found that dog owners had significantly fewer ‘sitting events’ – that is continuous periods of sitting down – than non-dog owners, although the total time spent sitting down did not differ between the two groups.

Professor Daniel Mills, Project Leader from the University of Lincoln, said:  “We all know that as we get older we tend to slow down a little. By staying active we can improve our health and other aspects of our quality of life. Factors driving higher levels of physical activity in adults are not well defined. We were interested in assessing whether dog ownership has the potential to improve the health of older adults through increased activity.”

WALTHAM researcher Nancy Gee, a co-author of the study, said: “Our results indicate that dog ownership may play an important role in encouraging older adults to walk more. Ultimately, our research will provide insights into how pet ownership may help older people achieve higher levels of physical activity or maintain their physical activity levels for a longer period of time, which could improve their prospects for a better quality of life, improved or maintained cognition, and perhaps, even overall longevity.”

The study was conducted in collaboration with the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition, part of Mars Petcare and funded through an ISAZ/WALTHAM award. The scale of the influence of dog ownership on physical activity indicates that future research regarding physical activity in older people should assess and report dog ownership and/or dog walking status.

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