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Study finds dog owners walk 22 more minutes per day, at a pace that improves health; Ky. seniors rank very low for physical activity

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By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Dog owners walk on average 22 more minutes per day compared to people who don't own a dog, says a recent study.

"Not only did we see an increase in exercise, but also the exercise was at a moderate pace," study author Daniel Mills of the University of Lincoln, in the United Kingdom, told Allison Aubrey of NPR.

The study, published in the journal BMC Public Health, found at times the dog owners walked around 3 miles per hour, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers moderate intensity.

"Prior studies have shown that moderate-intensity walking is just as effective as running in lowering the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes and other conditions," Aubrey reports.

The study included men and women aged 65 and older who agreed to wear an activPAL monitor, which measure speed, distance and other factors 24 hours a day. Participants also self-recorded information about their own and their dog's demographics, daily responsibilities and sleep/wake times. The study started with 43 pairs of dog owners and non-dog owners.

And in addition to the additional 22 minutes of walking at a brisk pace, the study said participants added almost 3,000 additional steps per day and sat less often, though the total time spent sitting didn't vary much.

"The national physical-activity guidelines call for 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise, and that's what they got in this study," Robert Sallis, a family physician with Kaiser Permanente in California, told Aubrey about the study. Sallis was not involved in the research.

"If you look at studies on pet ownership, people who own pets seem to live longer than those who don't own them," Sallis said. He added that it's not just the increased activity that improves a persons health, but is also the companionship that pets provide which can lead to lower rates of depression and stress.

Kentucky's seniors are ranked third in the nation for physical inactivity, according to America's Health Rankings. They also ranked last in health outcomes, which measured things like self-reported health status, premature deaths and frequent mental distress.

Harvard Medical School also touts the many health benefits of having a pet, but cautions that they can be expensive to care for, require a lot of work, can pose sanitary risks and that they can sometimes pose a health hazard for older adults.

"If you have problems with gait and stability and your pet can get under your feet or jump up and knock you over, then falls and broken bones are a real danger," psychiatrist Dr. Greg Fricchione, director of the Harvard-affiliated Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine, said in the article.

For a fee, the medical school has published a special health report called "Get Healthy, Get a Dog," that offers advice on how to choose the best pet to suit your lifestyle, as well as the role of service dogs.

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