A new study suggests that senior citizens who are struggling to maintain good health should try a much more rewarding yet equally effective strategy: getting a pet.
According to Reuters, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that adults of all ages engage in at least 150 minutes of moderately intense exercise or 75 minutes of high-intensity aerobic exercise a week. Meeting these requirements becomes harder with age, as evidenced by the 13 million American senior citizens who are overweight or obese.
Research compiled at England’s University of Lincoln has found that senior citizens who live with dogs are much more likely to meet the CDC’s recommendations for exercise.
The team enlisted 86 adults aged 65 to 81. About two-thirds of the participants were women, and the average participant was overweight, though only by a slight margin. All participants wore monitors to measure their movements throughout three, one-week periods spread out over the course of one year. The purpose of spreading out the weekly periods was to see how movements varied during different seasons.
Half of the participants were dog owners whereas the other half were not. Each dog owner was matched with a participant without a dog based on gender, height, weight, and overall health. The average dog that participated in the study was approximately eight years old.
When compared to participants without dogs, dog owners walked an average of 23 more minutes each day. Over the course of a week, dog owners walked 161 more minutes than participants without dogs, allowing them to meet the CDC’s exercise requirement for adults.
“It’s very difficult to find any other intervention that produces this size of effect,�? Dr. Daniel Simon Mills, senior study author and professor of veterinary behavioral medicine at the University of Lincoln in England told Reuters. “It’s good evidence that dog ownership amongst the elderly increases physical activity in a meaningful and healthy way.�?
Dr. Mills added that the additional walking from dog owners was at a moderate pace, which is the same pace an adult must follow to meet the CDC’s exercise requirements. The results not only confirm the health benefits of owning a dog but also that senior citizens can meet weekly exercise requirements solely by walking dogs.
“If you’d like to get a dog, don’t be put off by the fact you’re elderly,�? Mills said. “It’s good for the dog, and it’s good for you.�?
Previous studies have shown that dog owners are typically healthier than people without dogs. In Mills’ opinion, his findings suggest that it’s the dog themselves that make dog owners improve their health, as opposed to the theory that most dog owners were already relatively health-conscious before they got their dogs.
But Marcia Stefanick, a professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine who was not involved in the study, isn’t so sure that the dogs were the only reason the senior citizens in the University of Lincoln study were the healthier participants.
“Despite ‘successful matching’ on what the authors consider key variables, a person who is ready and willing to walk a dog at least twice a day is more likely to get a dog than one who sees that commitment as too challenging,�? she told Reuters.
Then again, Stefanick noted, “once a person has a dog, the motivation and likelihood that he or she would at least walk around the block, with several stops along the way, would clearly be higher.�?