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Dog owners 34 percent more likely to reach recommended exercise levels

A new study conducted by Michigan State University and published in the Journal of Physical Health and Activity has found that people who owned a dog and regularly went on walks with their four-legged companion were 34 percent more likely to reach or exceed the 150 minutes of recommended physical activity each day. 

"Walking is the most accessible form of physical activity available to people," said Mathew Reeves of Michigan State University, who headed up the study. "What we wanted to know was if dog owners who walked their dogs were getting more physical activity or if the dog-walking was simply a substitute for other forms of activity."

The research team evaluated dog owners and found that those who took their pooches out for walks generally got about an hour of additional exercise, compared to people who own canines but rely on others to walk them.

Reeves added that regularly walking a dog can help people socialize and build lasting bonds with both animals and friends who accompany them on the stroll. The physical benefits of the walk appeared to be particularly pronounced among dog owners who were past middle age.

"It's a very easy and convenient way to exercise," family practitioner Dr. Charles Sturm told Scripps-Howard News Service. "No special equipment is needed. You don't have to drive somewhere or go to a sports field to participate."

Dogs may also help encourage you to maintain a disciplined fitness regime, because they will almost always be motivated to go for a stroll. AARP.org states that the best way to start a new fitness schedule with a canine companion is to first check with a veterinarian about a dog's physical capabilities. Find the best kind of leash for your particular breed - either a harness or traditional - and then, start walking. Try to keep track of how many miles you've logged using a pedometer, internet software or a smartphone app.

While not all retirement communities allow pets, some, such as Del Webb Naples in Florida or Sun City Shadow Hills in California, offer special amenities for animal lovers, including dog parks. Many also have miles of nature trails that can provide residents with beautiful scenery and a unique experience every time they take their canine for a walk.  

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