Study shows getting a dog may actually save your life

Recently there was an article by Carolyn Crist (Reuters Health) on why most dog owners are healthier. As someone who has two dogs, I instinctively knew this had to be true. But reading the research really bolstered my belief that if you want to do something that is virtually guaranteed to improve your overall health and physical fitness – get a dog!

In my book FIT10™ I wrote about our dog Maggie who loved to run and jump and swim. Rarely was there a day that Maggie went without exercise. On that rare occasion, usually, due to bad weather, when we didn’t get outside, she would begin running laps around the house as fast as possible until she had gotten in her workout for the day.

Ultimately, however, dogs, even “high energy breeds”, are just like humans. If their human owner refuses to exercise them, they will eventually adapt to a sedentary lifestyle of little or no movement.

Dog Owners Are More Likely to Exercise Regularly

Andy Jones of the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, and colleagues, analyzed data collected as part of a large study of community-dwelling adults ages 40 to 79 in Norfolk, UK. Overall, the average age was around 70, and 57 percent were female. Participants wore accelerometers to record their daily physical activity and sedentary behavior.

Here are the findings from this study of older adults

  • Dog owners who walk their pets outside are more likely to have regular exercise habits, regardless of the weather
  • Regular dog walkers were more active on days with cold, rainy weather – and on days with the worst weather conditions, they had 20 percent higher activity levels and were more active for 30 minutes per day, compared to people who didn’t have dogs
  • Overall, daily activity was lower on days with rain, colder temperatures, and shorter daylight hours. On dry days, however, regular dog walkers still got outside, even if it was cold. Regular dog-walkers were also more active on the shortest days than non-walkers and non-owners were on the longest days

“As we get older, we decline in the amount of physical activity we get, and we tend to be less active at the time in our lives when it’s best to be active,” said the study author.

Getting a Dog May Save Your Life, Especially if You’re Single

Swedish researchers found that people with [dogs], especially the unmarried, have fewer heart problems than those who don’t. Having a dog can bring a lot of love into your life. It could also make it last a little longer.

A group of academics from Uppsala University in Sweden analyzed the health records of 3.4 million people in that northern European country, where databases contain detailed information on everyone’s hospitalizations, medical history, and even whether they own a dog. Such detailed records made it relatively easy to figure out the impact of having a canine companion.

Those with a dog were less likely to have cardiovascular disease or die from any cause during the 12 years covered by the research, according to the study published in Scientific Reports. The impact was greatest for single people, said Mwenya Mubanga, an author of the paper from the university’s Department of Medical Sciences and the Science for Life Laboratory.

So, if you find your fitness slipping and you don’t have a dog, head to your nearest shelter and pick one up. They’re much cheaper than a treadmill! He or she will certainly get you back on track. Better yet, get a puppy or a young dog. They’ll fight your lazy-lifestyle vociferously. Meaning, they’ll bug the daylights out of you every day, pleading with you to get off the couch and get moving.


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