Dog owners are about four times more likely than other people to meet today’s physical activity guidelines, according to a large-scale new study of dogs and exercise.
The study, which involved hundreds of British households, suggests that having a dog can strongly influence how much people exercise.
Few of us would be surprised that past studies have found links between dog ownership and frequent walking. But many of those studies have been small and relied solely on people’s sometimes- unreliable recall of their exercise routines. They also have not looked at whether walking a dog might displace other kinds of physical activity, which would mean that dog owners were not exercising more, in total, than other people.
Those issues prompted exercise scientists from the University of Liverpool and other institutions to undertake one of the most comprehensive comparisons yet of how often, whether and in what ways dog owners and their dogless neighbors exercise.
So, for the new study, published in April in Scientific Reports, they first turned to a neighborhood near Liverpool and began asking families in the area about their lives and pets. The researchers focused on a single community so that everyone involved should shared approximately the same local environment with similar access to sidewalks, parks or other amenities that might affect their exercise routines.
They wound up with almost 700 participants from 385 neighboring households, half of them women and most middle-age, although about 70 children also participated. About a third of these people owned a dog.
The scientists asked everyone in these households, including the children, to complete lengthy questionnaires about how they moved each week. They also provided activity monitors to a few of the families.
Then they collected and compared data.
It was immediately apparent that people who owned dogs walked far more often than those without dogs, said Carri Westgarth, lecturer in human-animal interaction at the University of Liverpool, who led the new study.
In general, according to both the questionnaires and activity monitors, most dog owners spent close to 300 minutes each week walking with their dogs, which was about 200 more minutes of walking per week than people without dogs.
Due primarily to these walks, most dog owners met or exceeded the standard guidelines for exercising for health, which call for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week.
Taken as a whole, the results suggest that people with dogs are more physically active than those without, Westgarth says.