Does owning a dog improve physical health?

Do dogs improve physical health?

Animal behaviour experts are investigating whether dog ownership could bring physical benefits to the lives of older people.

Academics from the University of Lincoln and Glasgow Caledonian University are investigating healthy activity patterns and sedentary behaviour among older people who own dogs.

The teams were given the award for their proposal to investigate this important topic by the International Society of Anthrozoology and WALTHAM®, as part of a competitive call for research proposals into human-animal interactions, with a particular focus on the role pets play in the lives of older adults.

Previous research has established that dog owners are more likely to walk for longer time periods, but research to date has focused on walking dogs outdoors and ignored much of the incidental activity associated with owning a dog such as the impact of ownership on the amount of walking around the house. Earlier research also relied heavily on self-report questionnaires, whereas the current study will automatically log the activity of individuals.

The study’s principal investigator Professor Daniel Mills, from the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences, said: “This study is a great example of where the expertise of different teams can come together to achieve something which neither could do on their own. At Lincoln we have great expertise on animal welfare and human-animal interaction, while at Glasgow Caledonian they have a unique team dedicated to assessing activity, and considerable experience in doing this with older adults.”

With increasing obesity in Western countries and ageing populations, identifying and understanding the factors that can contribute to healthy ageing is vitally important and there is good reason to think that dog ownership might be one such factor.

This research aims to provide the first objective and quantifiable data on the influence of dogs on the activity of older adults through using accelerometer-based activity monitors.

Dr Sarah Ellis, also from the University of Lincoln, said: “We are currently actively recruiting participants for the study and are really keen to hear from anyone aged 65 years or over who would be willing to wear an activity monitor for three, one-week periods across the timeframe of a year. It does not matter how active you are, or whether you own a dog or not, as we are interested in all types of activity levels. As a thank you for your participation, we will provide you with an individualised activity report for each time period.”

The study, which officially started in July 2012, is set to run until July 2014.

Volunteers will only need to take part for three one-week periods, each in a different season.

If you are 65 years of age or above, can walk for 10 minutes unaided and live in the Lincolnshire area and would like to be involved, contact Jessica Hardiman by e-mailing or calling 01522 835488.

Story credits:

Marie Daniels - PR OfficerMarie Daniels – PR Officer
Telephone: 01522 886244