We know that, as we get older, exercise becomes increasingly important to keep the body in optimum health. Motivation might not come as easily as reason, though, so it's always good to have a workout buddy to help you keep moving. And that buddy might even be keener than you think. A new study at the University of Missouri shows that seniors who form strong bonds with their pets tend to exercise longer and more often.
After the age of 60, walking is often the easiest and most accessible form of physical activity. It's low impact and does not require equipment and it's also self-paced and can be molded into a daily routine. For these reasons, it's also the most common form of exercise for this age group. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults of all ages should engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week.
The research team at the University of Missouri has discovered that older adults who are pet owners can benefit from the bonds they form with their canine companions. The new study shows that dog walking is associated with "more frequent moderate and vigorous exercise," lower body mass index, fewer doctor visits and an increase in social benefits for seniors.
The team looked at figures from the Health and Retirement study, which is partially sponsored by the National Institute on Aging. This included data about human-animal interactions, physical activity, frequency of doctor visits and the corresponding health outcomes of participants. "Our study explored the associations between dog ownership and pet bonding with walking behavior and health outcomes in older adults," said Rebecca Johnson, professor at the MU College of Veterinary Medicine.
"Our results showed that dog ownership and walking were related to increases in physical health among older adults," said Johnson, who is director of the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at MU. "These results can provide the basis for medical professionals to recommend pet ownership for older adults and can be translated into reduced health care expenditures for the aging population."
The study also showed that the higher the degree of pet bonding the more likely participants were to have longer and more frequent dog walks than those reporting weaker bonds. The study also showed that pet walking offers a means to socialize with pet owners and others. Johnson suggests retirement communities could incorporate more pet-friendly policies such as including walking trails and dog exercise areas to allow residents access to the health benefits of dog ownership.
As we've already seen, having a fuzzy companion can do more than help with your weight — among other things, pets can lower stress, improve mood, prevent stroke and keep allergies at bay. Check out why pets are so good for your health.