Dogs Keep Older Humans Healthy
There is much evidence in the scientific community that links dog ownership to improved health. One of the ‘problems’ with many of the studies is that of a small sample size. In essence, the study might indicate a linkage between do ownership and improved health, but the relatively small number of people/dogs that participate in the study make it ‘harder’ to make broad inferences across an entire population.
A recent study published in the periodical The Gerontologist entitled “Dog Walking, the Human–Animal Bond and Older Adults’ Physical Health”, by Johnson, et al, looked at a large sample set (n = 771) of data to conclude that walking with a dog will yield a whole list of health benefits for older adults. Some of the key conclusions made by the authors include the fact that dog walking is linked to:
- A lower body mass index (BMI)
- An increased frequency of moderate and intense exercise
- A reduction in the number of doctor visits
- Fewer limitations of daily living activities and an increase in social benefits
Not surprisingly, the study authors also determined that senior adults with the strongest human-canine bond were more likely to walk their dog more often and walk for longer intervals.
On the other hand, and in contradiction to what I have read before, the study did not find a strong correlation between merely having a dog and improved physical health or health behaviors.
As it relates to the high cost of health care, the authors stated:
“These results can provide a basis and an impetus for medical professionals to recommend dog ownership and dog walking to their middle-aged and older patients. These individual health benefits may translate to reduced health care expenditures for older adults at the societal level”. The authors continued to say: “Retirement communities could also be encouraged to incorporate more pet-friendly policies, including dog walking trails and dog exercise areas so that their residents could access the health benefits provided by interactions with dogs, and dog walking could be easier for dog owners.”
Fundamentally, the study supports the idea that regular exercise can be a major defense against disease and a major facilitator of an active and healthy life. The fact that having a dog in a home can increase the likelihood of regular exercise is one of the reasons that dogs are so wonderful and great to have as part of the family. I would also suggest that, even though the study focused on older adults (aged 50 and older), the overall results would likely apply to people of all ages. The bottom line is that if you are in search of good health, whatever your age might be, consider adding a dog to your family. And if you already have a dog, then make sure to get off of your butt and walk with your mutt!