Editorial: Dog ownership may be good for your health
The Issue: A study finds that dog owners ages 60 and up walk 21/2 hours more per week than nonowners. Our Opinion: Older adults without a pooch may want to consider getting one.
You can explore the traditional exercise options if you're 60 or older.
You can check out treadmills or stair climbers at the big-box retailers, or price the weight sets or stationary bikes. You can join a gym and suffer through those superfit types poking and prodding you for body-fat percentages, when all you really want is to just jump on a machine and be left to sweat in silence.
You could do something less expensive and smaller, such as grabbing a good pair of sneakers and starting a walking or jogging regimen.
Or - if you believe some pooch-positive new research - you could just buy yourself a dog.
According to a study published this month in the journal BMC Public Health, 60-plus-year-old dog owners tread 22 more minutes a day than their dogless peers. That's 154 minutes, just over 21/2 extra hours, each week.
Here's the most tail-wagging part: Those extra miles are brisk enough to count as real exercise.
Rather than using pedometers, as previous dog-walking studies have done, researchers at the University of Lincoln in the United Kingdom went with a more thorough measurement. Study participants - dog owners and nondog owners, all 60 or older - wore activPAL monitors 24 hours a day for three weeks. The devices measured factors such as speed and distance, and gave researchers "a real insight into the total amount of activity," study author Daniel Mills told NPR.
"What we did is we used a much more sophisticated activity monitor in order to assess the effect," Mills said.
"Not only did we see an increase in exercise," he added, "but also it was at a moderate pace."
That pace was about 3 miles per hour, or moderate by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards. And that's a good thing. Past research reveals a moderate walking pace is as effective as running for dropping weight or controlling cholesterol levels, blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and more. The more walking, the more intense the positives.
So locking that leash to Lassie and locking your hand to that leash means all sorts of good stuff, and this study isn't the first to say so. In 2011, a study found that seniors are more likely to walk with their mutts than with their mates.
"You need to walk, and so does your dog," the University of Missouri's Rebecca A. Johnson told The New York Times at the time. "It's good for both ends of the leash."
The University of Lincoln research, with the fullness of its data, specifies just how good it is.
"The national physical activity guidelines call for 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise," Robert Sallis, a Kaiser Permanente physician in California, told NPR, "and that's what they got in this study."
But it's not what most Americans get weekly. According to the CDC, only about half of us exercise that much.
Which is why Sallis is so fond of this study's findings. He, like the University of Missouri's Johnson before him, said dog ownership may force older Americans into more exercise and eliminate their excuses for avoiding it.
So what's the actionable takeaway? Well, if you're a 60-plusser thinking of starting a workout program, perhaps it's time to do more than just bark about it.
Consider finding yourself a dog. Go get a pup for that paunch.