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Dog owning is good for you

Dogs are not only great companions. According to a new report from the University of St Andrews, owning a dog also makes older people physically fitter and healthier.

It seems that dog owners over the age of 65 act 10 years younger than their biological age and dogs also have a beneficial effect on a person’s mental health.

The study is the first to examine the effects of dog owning on the levels of physical activity in the over 65s. It found that on average, older dog owners were 12 per cent more active than their counterparts who did not own a dog and that the over 65s who owned a dog achieved the same exercise levels as people ten years younger.

The study was led by Dr Zhiqiang Feng and involved over 500 over 65 year olds in Tayside. Of those who took part, 9% (around 50 people) were dog owners. The participants wore an accelerometer which measured their movements and the results were recorded over a seven day period.

Dr Feng said:

“It is well known that pet ownership may help alleviate feelings of loneliness and depression in older people, but one area that has received little attention is the effect of dog ownership on the physical activity levels of the elderly.
“Our results suggest that dog ownership may motivate personal activity and enable older people to overcome many potential barriers such as lack of social support, inclement weather and concerns over personal safety.”

For people who are unable to own dogs, Dr Feng has recommended that dog-loaning and dog walking groups are alternative ways for older people to benefit.

The NHS has been quick on the update of this report and has examined the research in detail, highlighting the low numbers that participated in the study. Click here for more on this.

However, it does back up the fundamental recommendations that exercise is a key player in keeping physically and mentally fit. Some reports suggest that keeping a dog is particularly good for exercise because it “drags” people out when they really would rather collapse in a soft chair.

But there could be additional benefits. According to America’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, owning a pet can decrease cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure.

Dog owning could also be good for grandchildren. Today many young working parents do not have time to look after their own dog. But dogs not only are a wonderful playmate for when the grandchildren visit, but research has shown that children who have regular contact with dogs often suffer far less from allergies and respiratory illnesses than those who don’t.

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