A Dog

A Furry Fitbit? No, But Dog Owners Are More Active

If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog. This apocryphal quote supposedly came from Harry Truman. But Truman never kept that advice, or a dog, for that matter. However, it does seem that for those who are so inclined, dog owners have a helpful excuse for staying more active.

A Robust Relationship

A new study in Scientific Reports offers good evidence that dog owners are more active than folks who don’t own dogs. This research, from the University of Liverpool, brings us the most complete and objective observations yet on this subject. Carri Westgarth and colleagues collected both self-reports and accelerometry from British adults and children in 385 households of West Cheshire.

After careful modeling to account for confounding factors, Westgarth concluded that dog owners are four times more likely to meet physical activity guidelines. “Dog owners do a lot more walking for recreation as their physical activity,” says Westgarth.

The difference was true for both kids and adults. Children in households with dogs were much more active than in households without them. They walked the dogs for an average of 100 minutes per week and engaged in active play with them for another 200 minutes. In other words, the whole family can benefit.

But No Guarantees

Of course, even with all their careful modeling, this is still an observational study. Many differences distinguish pet owners from non pet owners. Even though these researchers did their best to account for this fact, we can’t be sure they accounted for everything. A longitudinal study would offer more insight into causality, say Westgarth et al.

Also, it’s worth noting that some dog owners never walked their dogs. Those dog owners were almost all healthy, young, and female. So dog ownership is not a one-size-fits-all prescription for physical activity. Westgarth cautions us:

A dog is not a tool just to make us more physically active. But if you feel that you have the time, inclination and finances to take on the responsibility of having a dog, it’s a great motivator to get out walking when you otherwise would have made excuses not to.

A dog is not merely some kind of furry fitbit. It’s a whole lot more and can be a source of motivation on many levels. If you’re up for it.

Click here for the study and here for more in the New York Times.

A Dog, painting by Franz Marc / WikiArt

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June 16, 2019