Dog walking can boost health: Two-thirds of dog owners walked their pets at least once a day
Researchers have discovered that regularly walking a dog boosts levels of physical activity in older people, especially during the winter.
This comes after Cancer Research UK said regularly doing exercise that gets you warm and slightly out of breath, like brisk walking, could help prevent around 3,400 cases of cancer in the UK each year.
Experts have said being overweight or obese is the single cause of preventable cancer in the UK after smoking and is linked to 13 types of cancer including bowel, pancreatic and breast cancer.
Exercise in older people has also been linked to a reduced risk of dementia.
Researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the University of Cambridge found owning or walking a dog was one of the most effective ways to beat the usual decline in later-life activity.
Of the 3,123 people taking part in the study with an average age of 69.5, 18 per cent reported having a dog in their households.
Two-thirds of dog owners walked their pets at least once a day.
In the worst weather, those who walked their dogs had 20 per cent higher activity levels than people who don’t have a dog, and were more active for 30 minutes each day.
The authors said the findings suggest that dog walking ‘may have considerable potential to support the maintenance of physical activity in older adults and could form part of exercise on prescription scheme’.
The authors acknowledge that dog ownership is not possible for some older adults.
Dog walking: Dog owners were more physically active
“We know that physical activity levels decline as we age, but we’re less sure about the most effective things we can do to help people maintain their activity as they get older,” said study lead author Dr Yu-Tzu Wu, from the University of Cambridge.
“We found that dog walkers were much more physically active and spent less time sitting overall.
“We expected this, but when we looked at how the amount of physical activity participants undertook each day varied by weather conditions, we were really surprised at the size of the differences between those who walked dogs and the rest of the study participants.”
Professor Andy Jones, from UEA, project leader, 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.”