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Fido and fitness: Dogs ownership keeps seniors active

Fido and fitness: Dogs ownership keeps seniors active For seniors, dogs may be more than man's best friend.

Owning a dog can have more benefits than simple companionship. According to a new study, dog walking could be considered the "key" to staying more active later in life.

Published recently in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, the study reveals that regular dog walking improves overall activity and movement in older individuals, especially in the winter. On average, those who walked dogs were sedentary for 30 minutes less than those who did not walk dogs.

Researchers from the University of East Anglia and Centre for Diet and Activity Research at the University of Cambridge discovered that "owning or walking a dog was one of the most effective ways to beat the usual decline in later-life activity, even combating the effects of bad weather." The study looked at more than 3,000 adults and asked them whether they owned and walked a dog. Participants were asked to wear an accelerometer to record their physical activity each day for seven consecutive days.

Project lead Andy Jones affirmed the team was "amazed to find that dog walkers were on average more physically active and spent less time sitting on the coldest, wettest, and darkest days than non-dog owners were on long, sunny, and warm summer days. The size of the difference we observed between these groups was much larger than we typically find for interventions such as group physical activity sessions that are often used to help people remain active."

Older man holding a dalmatian. Owning a dog be a key to a longer life.

Staying active in old age
As individuals age, they tend to become less active overall. Sometimes this can be linked to physical decline, other times it's simply due to social situations or lack of motivation. Information from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons supports this and suggests that a regular exercise routine like walking can alleviate some of the physical discomforts that come with simply growing older, as well as help with conditions like high blood pressure. Exercise maintains seniors' ability to walk and can assist with balance issues, in addition to helping maintain muscle mass which begins to decline after age 30. Additionally, the Academy suggests working with a doctor to create a balanced fitness program that combines aerobic conditioning, flexibility and agility exercises, strength training and relaxation techniques.

Exercise can be a fun social activity that seniors and caregivers enjoy. It creates an opportunity to socialize as well as relaxing, moving and partaking of fresh air and nature.

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