With good weather, I find myself walking our dog before and after work on many days. During these walks, I often contemplate how much owning a dog may be improving my health, and how it may affect others’ health. As I write this, our French bulldog is staring at me, gesturing in her dog language that she is bored and wants me to take her for a walk. She also woke me up by walking on my head and then licking my back for 20 minutes before, as always, she jumped around until I took her for a walk.
So, besides the occasional, earlier than desired wake ups, how is she affecting my health?
Do Dogs Make You Healthier?
According to several studies, the answer is a definite maybe. For instance, in older adults:
- Dogs seem to improve overall well being in women and single adults.1
- In postmenopausal women, owning a dog is associated with a higher likelihood of walking more than 150 minutes per week and these women spend less time being sedentary. These findings were particularly striking in women living alone.2
- Dog owners that walk their dogs are approximately twice as likely as non-dog owners to achieve recommended walking levels.3
- Dog owners take almost 3,000 more steps per day than non-dog owners.4
Finally, in a time when Facebook rules and a sense of community is threatened by a lack of up close and personal socializing coupled with decreased rates of foot traffic in some communities, frequent dog walkers experience a heightened sense of community. This makes sense, as anyone who walks their dog often knows, dog walkers tend to socialize.5 Other studies show that dog ownership is associated with lower blood pressure, a healthier heart, and lower rates of depression.
Here she is pouting, because I didn’t have time to take her for a walk.
So, Do Dogs Make You Healthier?
All these studies considered, the answer is: maybe. Dogs provide an impetus to get outside, walk around, and socialize with neighbors – all very healthy activities. However, as some of the studies listed above show, about two-thirds of dog owners still do not take their dogs for adequate walks, and many still sit for prolonged periods in-between walks.
In other words, just because you have a dog, it does not mean you will magically walk more. That being said, when many dogs, like mine, start begging for a walk, it is hard to resist.
If you are looking for a gentle way to nudge yourself, your parents, or a loved one to walk more, a dog just may be the ticket. Furthermore, as we age, we often tend to get lonelier for various reasons and a dog may be the perfect antidote. Our dog helps us to be happier, more active, and hopefully, healthier. Maybe one can do the same for you.
- Clark Cline, K. M. Psychological Effects of Dog Ownership: Role Strain, Role Enhancement, and Depression. J. Soc. Psychol. 150, 117–131 (2010).
- Garcia, D. O. et al. Relationships between dog ownership and physical activity in postmenopausal women. Prev. Med. (Baltim). 70, 33–38 (2015).
- Thorpe, R. J. et al. Dog Ownership, Walking Behavior, and Maintained Mobility in Late Life. J. Am. Geriatr. Soc. 54, 1419–1424 (2006).
- Dall, P. M. et al. The influence of dog ownership on objective measures of free-living physical activity and sedentary behaviour in community-dwelling older adults: a longitudinal case-controlled study. BMC Public Health 17, 496 (2017).
- Toohey, A. M., McCormack, G. R., Doyle-Baker, P. K., Adams, C. L. & Rock, M. J. Dog-walking and sense of community in neighborhoods: Implications for promoting regular physical activity in adults 50 years and older. Health Place 22, 75–81 (2013).