New UEA study proves dog walking benefits physical health in old age
- Credit: � ARCHANT NORFOLK PHOTOGRAPHIC
Dogs are affectionately known as man's best friend.
And as well as providing years of loyal companionship, they can boost health among the older generation, a university study has revealed.
Researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR) at the University of Cambridge found that owning or walking a dog boosted levels of physical activity in older people, especially during the winter.
Just over 3,000 people from Norfolk took part in the study.
It found that dog owners were inactive for 30 minutes less per day on average when compared to people who did not own dogs.
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Project lead Prof Andy Jones, from UEA's Norwich School of Medicine, said: 'We were amazed to find that dog walkers were on average more physically active and spent less time sitting on the coldest, wettest, and darkest days than non-dog owners were on long, sunny, and warm summer days.
'The size of the difference we observed between these groups was much larger than we typically find for interventions such as group physical activity sessions that are often used to help people remain active.'
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People who took part in the study were asked if they owned a dog and if they walked one.
They also wore an accelerometer - a small electronic device that constantly measured their physical activity levels over seven days.
The information was then linked to the weather conditions, sunrise and sunset times during each day of the study.
Bad weather and short days are known to be one of the biggest barriers to staying active outdoors.
The experts found out that on shorter days that were colder and wetter, all participants tended to be less physically active and spent more time sitting down.
However, the dog walkers who were analysed were much less impacted by bad weather.
Prof Jones added: 'Physical activity interventions typically try and support people to be active by focussing on the benefits to themselves, but dog walking is also driven by the needs of the animal. 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.'
Views of Norwich dog owners
Dog walking makes people more active and social as well as change lifestyle habits.
That was the consensus from a group of dog owners taking their pets for a walk on Earlham Park, Norwich.
One woman said: 'I have had times in my life when I have been dog-less and I have not taken near as much exercise as I do now. It definitely makes me more active. I have to exercise my dog whatever the weather.'
Another dog owner, said: 'I go out twice a day every day, before and after work, and do long walks during the weekend. During frosty times we go on long walks and wrap up for them.'
She added that having a dog had changed her habits in terms of general activity levels and even when she was not with her dog she would take long walks while on holiday.
One dog owner said that as well as getting out every day with her pet, going on a walk made her talk to more people in her community.