People who walk their dog at least three times a week* show higher levels of social activity and closer social relationships than those who walk their dogs less frequently, a new study has revealed.
The research links dog ownership to better physical health in middle-aged and older adults.
Almost half of adults aged 50 years and over in Ireland own a pet, with dogs being most common.
The report, from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) in Trinity College Dublin, also highlights that dog owners are also more likely to report high levels of physical activity.
Dog owners are more likely to achieve the recommended walking target of 150 minutes per week and to have higher hand grip strength and faster mobility.
Other findings include that although female dog owners are more likely to be current smokers; those who walk their dog regularly have lower BMI based on self-reported height and weight compared to non-regular dog walkers.
The report also states that pet owners who report that their reason for having a pet is because they love animals have a higher sense of purpose in life.
Lead author Dr Orna Donoghue said: Dog owners report higher levels of physical activity compared to non-dog owners. However, regular dog walking appears to be an important mechanism through which dog owners attain higher levels of active social participation and more close social relationships."
“Given the high prevalence of dog ownership, the strong bond and attachment between dogs and their owners and the physical activity requirements to promote dog health, dog walking may represent a useful strategy to improve physical, social and mental health outcomes in older dog owners.”
Principal Investigator of TILDA, Professor Rose Anne Kenny says as people get older circumstances can change and they may not be able to keep a pet.
“To maintain wellbeing in older adults and to support independent ageing at home, it will be important to consider the potential benefits of exposure to and interaction with pets and consequently, innovative ways which facilitate older adults to keep pets for as long as they wish to do so.
“This is especially pertinent given the current changing population demographics in Ireland; with increased life expectancy, we should address initiatives that increase opportunities for active and healthy ageing.”
Possible opportunities to increase exposure and interactions with pets without the added responsibility of full-time ownership include volunteering at local animal shelters, providing “daycare” for dogs whose owners are at work during the day, dog visiting programmes for older adults living at home, dogs accompanying home care professionals, or resident dogs or other animals in nursing homes.
* This article was amended on August 27th, 2019