If you want to reach federal benchmarks on physical activity, get a dog. Researchers from Michigan State University found that individuals who had a dog and walked it had a 34% higher chance of attaining federal physical activity targets. Their result findings have been published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health

The authors say their findings suggest that promoting dog ownership and walking your dog could have a significant impact on improving the general health of Americans. In the USA today less that half of the population meets recommended levels of free-time physical activity.

Epidemiologist Mathew Reeves said:

"Walking is the most accessible form of physical activity available to people. What we wanted to know was if dog owners who walked their dogs were getting more physical activity or if the dog-walking was simply a substitute for other forms of activity."

Reeves and colleagues gathered data from the CDC's Michigan Behavioral Risk Factor Survey, an annual survey. They discovered that owning a dog impacted on our behavior in two ways:
  • Owning a dog encourages you to walk more
  • People who own dogs become more active overall
Dog owners who take their pets for walks generally walk approximately one hour more per week than dog owners who do not walk them.

Reeves said:

"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. 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 assessed how much leisure-time physical activity people were actively involved in, such as walking, gardening, dancing, and sports.

In a communiqué, Michigan State University wrote:

"There is no magic bullet in getting people to reach those benchmarks. But owning and walking a dog has a measurable impact."

Reeves also says that the bond humans can have with a dog has a beneficial impact on their quality of life.

About one third of dog owners do not regularly walk their dogs. More should be done to encourage these people to walk their pets regularly and take part in physical activity overall.

Reeves said:

"The findings suggest public health campaigns that promote the responsible ownership of a dog along with the promotion of dog walking may represent a logical opportunity to increase physical activity."

The researchers also found that:
  • Middle-aged people walk their dogs the least
  • Young people and elderly individuals walk their dogs the most
  • People walk their dogs more when the pet is about 1 year old, compared to older dogs
  • Those with dogs weighing over 45lbs (about 21kg) went for longer walks than owners of little dogs do
"The Impact of Dog Walking on Leisure-Time Physical Activity: Results From a Population-Based Survey of Michigan Adults"
Mathew J. Reeves, Ann P. Rafferty, Corinne E. Miller, Sarah K. Lyon-Callo
JPAH Volume 8, Issue 3, March

Written by Christian Nordqvist