Study: Dog Owners Get More Exercise

As if you needed any other reason to feel good about your decision to be a dog owner, it turns out that just having a dog in your life will make you healthier. You probably already knew that owning a dog had been proven to have a positive impact on mental health and things like blood pressure and stress, but a new study shows that it also leads to a healthier lifestyle in the get-your-butt-up-off-the-couch-and-exercise way too.

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In fact, according to the study (which involved hundreds of British households), dog owners are about four times more likely than other people to meet recommended physical activity guidelines. In other words: Having a dog means you're more likely to hit 10,000 steps and close those rings on your Apple Watch than you would be if you didn't have a dog.

The logic behind this is pretty obvious: dogs like walking. And, if you live in a city or an apartment or anywhere without a big backyard to serve as your pup's bathroom, dogs must go on several walks a day if you don't want your place to smell awful all the time/become a biohazard. But is that "dogs need to walk, therefore dog owners walk more" common sense explain all of the difference in dog owner and non-dog owner exercise gap?

Exercise scientists from the University of Liverpool and other institutions decided to truly dig into what makes having a dog lead to a healthier lifestyle. The study, published in April's Scientific Reports, focused on a single neighborhood near Liverpool so that everything else about the participants' lives (like the weather and access to parks and places to get out and exercise) would be the same for the dog owners and non-dog owners. The total group was almost 700 participants form 385 households. About a third of the participants were dog owners.

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The scientists gave participants long surveys to fill out and, for some participants, they even provided activity trackers to get some super accurate data. According to both the surveys and activity monitors, most dog owners spent almost 300 minutes every single week walking with their dogs—by comparison, that was about 200 more minutes of walking per week than people without dogs.

So, yes, walking your dog is a big part of why having a dog equals better overall health. But it's not the only thing. The study also found that dog owners spent more time on non-walking forms of activity, like jogging, biking, and going to the gym alone than their non dog owning counterparts.

But, it's important to remember that correlation isn't always causation. The researchers also pointed out that the kind of people who have the time, money, and energy to devote to caring for a dog might just be the kind of people who are more likely to have the time, money, and energy to be more active—or that having a dog encourages those people to be active when they might have otherwise found excuses not to be.

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"A dog is not a tool just to make us more physically active," Carri Westgarth, a lecturer in human-animal interaction at the University of Liverpool, who led the new study, said. "But if you feel that you have the time, inclination and finances to take on the responsibility of having a dog, they are a great motivator to get out walking when you otherwise would have made excuses not to."