A Dog Gets You Moving

Thu, 8 Dec. 2011 - 5:31 p.m. MT
Credit: ARA Staff - American Running Association

In addition to the legion of benefits to be reaped from dog ownership, as an effective piece of gym equipment, a canine companion turns out to be a worthy investment. A study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine finds that on average dog owners spend a far greater amount of time performing moderate physical activity than non-owners.

 

The British Columbia-based researchers Shane G. Brown and Ryan E. Rhodes surveyed 177 men and 174 women between the ages of 20 and 80. While study participants without pets reported walking an average of 168 minutes per week, dog owners in the study walked an average of 300 minutes per week—nearly double. The research suggests that dog obligation functions as a mediator between owners and physical activity. 

 

It is not exactly breaking news that dog ownership requires more time and energy commitment than most other forms of pet ownership. After all, dogs are pack animals with migratory behavior and they require a great deal of exercise. It isn’t surprising that Dog Psychology Center owner Cesar Millan, better known as the Dog Whisperer on the National Geographic Channel, is a trim and energetic specimen of good cardiovascular health. Still, there have only been a handful of studies examining the exact relationship between having a dog and performing moderate exercise regularly. Brown and Rhodes found that for many people it seems easier to exercise when responsibility for a third party is involved. The mechanism could be isolated in the present study because it wasn’t dog ownership per se that led to physical activity. The researchers found that a significant number of dog owners do not accept the responsibility of regularly walking their dogs. A higher level of human exercise is not associated with dog ownership so much as with acceptance of the responsibility of owning a dog

 

Motivation for an active lifestyle comes in many forms. The study may have interesting implications for exercise intervention strategies. It’s possible that among the barriers to physical activity for some people may be the unrelenting focus on the self. Accommodating a dog that needs to get out and run is quite a different experience from doing something “for yourself.” But it is not just the “selfish” nature of doing your body good that can indefinitely postpone the start of an exercise plan. A canine friend whose wellbeing depends completely on its owner could help to make regular exercise seem not at all like “work,” in the same way that a carnivorous predator does not perceive running after prey at all like “work”. 

 

Brown and Rhodes’ findings also suggest that simply owning a dog is in and of itself not enough. Nearly 25% of the dog owners in the study did not regularly walk their dogs, and consequently reaped no additional fitness benefits from owning one. (Perhaps this group would be better suited to the self-focus that exercising without a pet can require.) The bottom line is that those that would respond well to a dog-ownership-based exercise intervention are those with the willingness to take responsibility for a dog. 

 

(American J. Preventive Med., 2006, Vol. 30, No. 2, pp. 131-136)

 

 

(RUNNING & FITNEWS®November/December/January  2006-2007 • Volume 25, Number 1)




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