TUESDAY, March 15, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Owning a dog may do your heart good, literally.
New research shows that people who own dogs are about 34 percent more likely to get the recommended minimum amount of exercise each week, thanks to their furry friends.
"Dogs can be a great motivator for physical activity. People who walk their dogs, walk more. They walk about an hour longer each week," said study author Mathew Reeves, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Michigan State University in East Lansing.
Reeves, who is also a veterinarian, added that the public health problem of obesity affects both humans and pets, and said there are "just as many health benefits from walking for the pet as for the owner." So, he suggested, even if you can't seem to get moving to improve your own health, maybe keeping your canine healthy will be the motivator you need.
The findings are published in the March issue of the Journal of Physical Activity and Health.
For their analysis, Reeves and his colleagues reviewed data from the 2005 Michigan Behavioral Risk Factor Survey that included responses from almost 6,000 people.
Forty-one percent of the respondents owned a dog. Of those, almost two-thirds reported walking their dog for at least 10 minutes at a time. The remaining one-third didn't regularly walk their dogs.
Overall, dog owners were 69 percent more likely to get any leisure-time physical activity than non-dog owners, and they were 34 percent more likely to meet the U.S. government-recommended physical activity guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each week.
"When you look at dog walkers, only 27 percent get the 150 minutes of activity benchmarks, so dog walkers could probably be walking more often and can walk longer," said Reeves. "And, for the almost 40 percent of dog owners who didn't walk at all, they really should be walking their dogs. Every dog should have the opportunity to get out and walk."
Numerous reasons were cited for not walking dogs, but the most common excuse was that the dog self-exercised or was an outside dog. Some dog owners said they had no time or interest in walking the dog; others reported their dog was too ill-behaved for them to walk; still others said either the dog or they themselves were too old to walk.
People older than 65 years were most likely to meet the exercise guidelines through dog walking. Middle-aged people spent the least time dog walking, according to the study. Educations levels and gender had little impact on the amount of time spent walking with a dog, the study found.
People with lower incomes, specifically those under $20,000 a year, spent the most time walking their dogs each week (median was 104 minutes), according to the survey results.
The researchers also found that people with young dogs tended to get more exercise, and that small dogs get shorter walks than larger ones.
Based on the study results, the authors suggest that public health campaigns emphasize the health benefits of regular dog walking.
"If you only use dog walking to get your exercise, make sure you do it at least five times a week for 30 minutes," advised Jill Rubin, a physical therapist at Scott and White Healthcare in Round Rock, Texas.
"If you can't walk your dog that often, you'll need some sort of supplemental exercise to meet the recommendations," she added.
Learn more about how much physical activity you should be getting from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.