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Are Dog Owners Healthier or Fitter Than Other People? What Science Says

Chelsie Fraser

By Chelsie Fraser

dalmatian dog on a leash walking with the owner

Research is seemingly showing that dog owners are fitter and healthier than non-dog owner because they walk longer, get more fresh air, and are more likely to meet recommendations for daily physical exercise. But is it true? Are dog owners really healthier and fitter than their non-dog-owning counterparts? Does owning a dog make you healthier? There is no surprise to say, that dog owners are more active than other people, however, lets take a dive into the details.

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The Relationship Between Fitness and Dog Ownership

A recent study conducted by the University of Liverpool 1 looked at 191 dog owners and 455 non-dog owners and their exercise habits. The findings of the study highlight how dog ownership encourages people to be more physically active.

Dog owners walked an average of 9.6 times per week, totaling approximately 347 minutes. Those without dogs walked an average of 4.6 times per week, totaling about 159 minutes. These results mean that nine out of 10 dog owners meet the recommendation of at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week. This compares with only six out of 10 non-dog owners meeting the target.

When removing factors like age and sex, dog owners were four times as likely to meet activity recommendations than individuals without dogs.

woman cuddles dog
Image Credit: Albina Glisic, Shutterstock

What the Results Mean

It shouldn’t be surprising that studies are finding links between owning a dog and the amount that dog owners walk. If they are concerned about the health of their pets, they will walk with them on a daily basis. However, studies that address only walking times have limitations.

Many of the studies on this topic have been small in their sample size. Most of them rely on surveys and individual recall of exercise habits. It’s probably fair to say that many people would be inclined to report walking their dog more than they actually do. Most studies also don’t address whether dog walking replaces other kinds of physical activity. If this is the case, it would mean dog owners aren’t exercising more than others, only that they walk more with a dog.

The Liverpool study collected data differently. While they did ask participants to complete lengthy questionnaires about their exercise habits, they also provided them with activity monitors. They were asked to wear them for a week.

Unexpectedly, dog owners walked more and spent more time than non-owners cycling, jogging, and visiting the gym without their dogs. This indicates that their dog walking didn’t take the place of other activities.

Children with dogs in the house were found to be more active too. Children with dogs walked approximately 100 minutes each week and spent another 200 minutes playing with dogs, which makes them substantially more active than children in dog-free homes.

man and dog walking
Image: Audrius Vizbaras, Pixabay

Does Dog Ownership Make You Healthier?

While this recent research seems to suggest so, observational studies can’t tell us everything. Whether dog ownership encourages people to be more active or active people are simply more likely to own dogs isn’t accounted for.

There is no discrimination in this study for dog size, breed, or temperament either. This could play a role in the owner’s activity levels, as many large breed dogs or working dogs require more exercise in order to be manageable within the home.

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Final Thoughts

Research shows that dog owners are more physically active than non-owners and that they are more likely to meet recommended weekly activity targets. However, this doesn’t mean buying a dog to become more active is a good idea. Dogs are a huge responsibility and not a tool to make people exercise more. That said, for people who do have dogs, they can be a huge motivator to get out and get active.

Featured Image Credit: absolutimages, Shutterstock

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