The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults 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 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 they form with their canine companions. Dog walking is associated with lower body mass index, fewer doctor visits, more frequent exercise and an increase in social benefits for seniors.
“Our study explored the associations between dog ownership and pet bonding with walking behavior and health outcomes in older adults,” says Rebecca Johnson, a professor at the MU College of Veterinary Medicine. “This study provides evidence for the association between dog walking and physical health using a large, nationally representative sample.”
The study analyzed 2012 data from the Health and Retirement study sponsored by the National Institute on Aging and the
Social Security Administration. It 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,” says Johnson. “These results can provide the basis for medical professionals to recommend pet ownership for older adults. They can also be translated into reduced health care expenditures for the aging population.”
Results also indicated that people with higher degrees of pet bonding were more likely to walk their dogs and spend more time with them 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 says.
The study, “Dog Walking, the Human-Animal Bond and Older Adults’ Physical Health,” recently was published by The
Gerontologist. 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.
10 Benefits For Seniors Having Pets*
1) Pets lower blood pressure and pulse rate
2) 21 percent fewer visits to the doctor
3) Less depression
4) Easier to make friends (enhanced social opportunities)
5) Seniors become more active
6) Pets offer affection and unconditional love
7) Pets ease loss of a loved one
8) Pets fight loneliness
9) Seniors take better care of themselves
10) Sense of security
* According to an article in “Pets for the Elderly”