Pet Pooches on Prescription?

“Man’s best friend”. This is a phrase coined to describe our beloved pet pooches due to their loyalty and companionship. Humans have been keeping domesticated dogs as pets for a very long time. Possibly for more than 33,000 years.  Now, a new study has found that owning a dog may be the key to keeping older people healthy and active.

This may seem like common sense, as surely having a dog and the necessity to walk it means you are more active? However, the study, which was reported in Epidemiology and Community Health, also looked at the weather conditions. What was interesting was that dog owners were more active on days with horrendous weather than those without dogs were even on beautiful sunny days!

Researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and University of Cambridge analysed data from a long term health and well-being study following thousands of people living in Norfolk.

They found that those who owned dogs were less sedentary and more active on days with poor weather conditions than non-dog owners were on days when the weather conditions were good.  Even on the shortest days, when it was colder and there was more rainfall, those with dogs had activity levels 20% higher. They were also less sedentary for around thirty minutes per day.

Health Benefits

We all know that staying active is important for our health.  Regular walking helps to reduce some chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, strokes along with some cancers.

As we get older,  our activity levels drop. In this study, the proportion of people who owned dogs decreased with age. Although older people may have more time for pets, their health and physical abilities or housing situations may prevent them from doing so.

Dogs on prescription?

Wouldn’t it be great if doctors could prescribe dog walking for their patients? It seems far fetched, but pets are already used as forms of therapy in certain situations. Maybe we need to start thinking outside the box for ways to help our increasingly ageing population?  Could we implement community programmes or voluntary dog walking as prescribed by doctors? It would be brilliant if we could. In the meantime, maybe getting yourself that much-wanted puppy as a retirement present doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.

Related articles: Exercise is smart thinking for the over 50sBuy a Bike to prevent Cancer and Heart disease

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Any opinions above are the author’s alone and may not represent those of his/her affiliations. Any comment is based on the best available evidence at the time of writing.  All data is based on externally validated studies unless expressed otherwise. Novel data is representative of the sample surveyed. An online recommendation is no substitute for seeing your own doctor and should not be taken as medical advice. Article edited for publication by Dr Hannah Arnstein

Images courtesy of pixabay

Sources and Further Reading

About hannaharnstein (13 Articles)
I am a psychiatry trainee working in the North East, but currently on maternity leave. Outside of medicine, other than writing I enjoy all things geek, baking and reading.

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