Dog ownership provides many health benefits for seniors

According to a new study, pensioners and older adults over 65 who have dogs as pets tend to spend an extra 22 minutes a day walking. This can cut down the risk of their developing heart disease as well as type 2 diabetes. Some experts suggest that General Practitioners should encourage older adults to get themselves a dog to keep fit.

Senior man and big dog walking in park - Image Credit: Africa Studio / Shutterstock
Senior man and big dog walking in park - Image Credit: Africa Studio / Shutterstock

The study involved around 80 pensioners with an average age of 70 belonging to three regions in the UK. Half of the participants owned a dog. They were given activity monitors to be worn for three one-week periods over a period of a year.

The study thus included 43 dog owners and 42 non-dog owners over the age of 65 years. They came from Lincolnshire, Derbyshire and Cambridgeshire and were recruited on their response to advertisements. Two-thirds of participants were women. The two groups of participants were matched for their age, sex, ethnicity and socioeconomic standing. The data was collected over three different periods of time over the year to understand and negate the effect of different seasons. The time frames include March to June, July to October, and November to February.

Other information gathered included the participants’ height, weight, general body fitness, ability to walk a distance continuously, presence of chronic ailments or health conditions etc. They also provided information regarding the breed, weight, length of ownership and extent of responsibility for their pets.

Results showed that dog owners 22 minutes longer each day. The study found that these pensioners with a dog took at least 10,000 steps a day and this was 38% more than those without a pet. The researchers at the Glasgow Caledonian University noted that dog owners spent 19 minutes a day less just sitting around compared to no-dog persons.

The NHS guidelines suggest at least 3 hours of exercise a week. So the dog owners seem to be reaching that goal better than no-dog owners. Meeting the target guidelines for exercise, cuts down the risk of type 2 diabetes by 40% and also cuts down the risk of heart diseases, dementia by third and cancers of the breast and bowel by fifth say experts.

The researchers concluded that there could be a connection between people going out more for walks if they had a dog compared to those who do not. However some people are generally more active, with or without a dog, say researchers. Also those with a long term debilitating illness would be less likely to walk their dogs or care for them, making them just like the non-dog owners of this study. The researchers add that this was a small scale study and more research is necessary to provide conclusive answers.

The study involved researchers from Glasgow Caledonian University and the University of Lincoln in the UK, and State University of New York in the US. It was funded by the ISAZ/WALTHAM Award coming from the International Society for Anthrozoology (ISAZ) that works on human and animal interaction. It was published in the journal BMC Public Health.

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