Dog Owners Are More Likely to Reach This Health Goal

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

walking your dog increase your physical activity

Story at-a-glance -

  • In a survey of 385 U.K. households, dog owners were far more likely to report walking for recreation than non-dog owners
  • Dog owners were four times more likely to meet physical activity guidelines of 150 minutes per week than non-dog owners
  • Dog owners were also more likely to go jogging or running, even without their dog
  • Children also benefitted from having a dog, as they reported more minutes per week of walking and unstructured free-time activity than children without dogs
  • Considering the high percentage of households who own dogs (24% in the U.K., 48% in the U.S. and 39% in Australia), this push toward greater physical activity could have significant ramifications for public health

One of the benefits of owning a dog is that it’s great for your physical health. Part of the reason why is because dogs need activity, and their owners often partake in this activity by taking their dogs for walks. In a survey of 385 U.K. households, dog owners were far more likely to report walking for recreation than non-dog owners.

Even among people who walked recreationally, dog owners walked longer each week. Considering the high percentage of households who own dogs (24% in the U.K., 48% in the U.S. and 39% in Australia), this push toward greater physical activity could have significant ramifications for public health, assuming, the researchers noted, “that the dogs are actually walked.”1

Dog Owners Four Times More Likely to Meet Exercise Guidelines

The study found that dog owners were four times more likely to meet physical activity guidelines of 150 minutes per week than non-dog owners. The dog owners were also more likely to go jogging or running, even without their dog. Children, too, benefitted from having a dog, as they reported more minutes per week of walking and unstructured free-time activity than children without dogs.

Specifically, children with dogs spent 78 more minutes per week walking for recreation, 285 more minutes per week walking overall and 260 minutes more time playing freely than children without dogs. The increased physical activity that comes with owning a dog may be one reason why dog ownership is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.2

A Scientific Reports study released in November 20173 also found that those who owned a dog were 11% less likely to die from any cause and 15% less likely to die of a heart problem during the 12 years included in the study.4,5 Owning a hunting breed of dog, such as a retriever or scent hound, was associated with the lowest risk of heart disease overall, perhaps because the dogs and their owners tended to be very active.

Further, in a study of older adults, dog walking was associated with lower body mass index, fewer doctor visits, fewer limitations to daily living and more frequent moderate and vigorous exercise.6 The researchers suggested, “The relationship with one’s dog may be a positive influence on physical activity for older adults.”7 For seniors, walking a dog can be a reason to get out of the house, helping to ward off social isolation.

Dogs help to break the ice when it comes to conversing with strangers. In the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, researchers even wrote, “dogs expose their human companions in public places to encounters with strangers, facilitate interaction among the previously unacquainted, and help establish trust among the newly acquainted.”8 In short, taking your dog for walks ensures you’ll get physical activity and may help you make a few new friends while you’re at it.

Dog Walking Gives You Time to Be in the Moment

One thing we can all learn from our dogs is the importance of living in the here and now. This is especially true during your walks together, when you can make a conscious effort to stop worrying about tomorrow and yesterday and just be in the moment with your dog. Your dog certainly will be! As you slow down and savor your moments together, remember to slow down for your dog’s sake, too.

Dogs live through their noses, and if you drag them along on their walk, without stopping to smell the literal roses, you can imagine how frustrating it would be. “It would be like humans going on a hike and being whisked along too fast to visually register the trees, the flowers and the view of the mountains,” Karen B. London, Ph.D., a certified applied animal behaviorist and certified professional dog trainer, wrote in The Bark.9

Instead of rushing along, give your dog plenty of time to sniff, so he can feel both physically and mentally satisfied after your walk. You needn’t do this every time you go out, but do try to give your dog time to sniff during at least one walk a day. I recommend setting aside walks for sniffing and walks that are intended for aerobic exercise, as each serves its own important purpose.

In this age when we’re all constantly connected to devices, using your dog walking time as an excuse to disconnect from the digital is also a wise move. This gives you a chance to fully enjoy your surroundings, including your dog. Make a point to observe your dog while you walk together, as research suggests most dog owners feel happiness upon walking their dogs, but only if they feel their dogs are enjoying the experience too.10

“Dog walking is used to meet the emotional needs of the owner as well as the physical needs of the dog,” the researchers explained,11 and the opposite is also true, making it a beneficial routine for all parties involved.