If you have a dog, then you can attest to how attuned they are to your attitude. When you’re happy, they almost always want to play or run around with you. Meanwhile, they can also sense when you’re sad, and will usually nuzzle up against you, or do something super cute to make you feel better. Their effect on our mental health is obvious. But they also have an effect on our physical health, according to a new study, helping us to act as if we are 10 years younger than we really are.
Of course, these findings really apply to older adults, who, at over 65 years old, are more likely to have a slower lifestyle filled with more disease. Having a pet was associated with higher levels of physical activity because older adults had to walk their dogs regularly. What’s more, the effect was consistent no matter the distance the participants walked with their dog.
“If you have a dog in the home, your physical activity level is roughly equivalent to a person 10 years younger,” said researcher Dr. Zhiqiang Feng, of St. Andrews University in Scotland, according to Health Medicine Network. “It may not add a decade to your life, but it is very beneficial — it is all about getting up and out and about.”
For the study, the researchers looked at data from the Physical Activity Cohort Scotland, which involved 547 people aged 65 and older. Each participant was given an accelerometer to wear over the course of seven days. It tracked their every movement, recording how much they walked, among other things. Though only 50 people, or nine percent, of participants had dogs, they were 12 percent more likely to be active, putting them at a lower risk of some diseases like heart disease, as well as bone and muscle problems.
Having a dog was also linked to a better mental health score, in part, because having a dog made people more social — other studies have also found that dog ownership was good for social development. Because all of the participants lived within 60 miles of each other, Feng suggested that having a dog share could be a good way for them and other elderly to reap the benefits of owning a dog without the expense or responsibility.
“Combining a mobile device with a community, for example, walking in a social group linked through social media networking technologies, may be effective,” Feng said. “It’s about getting up and out.”
Source: Feng Z, Dibben C, Witham M, et al. Dog ownership and physical activity in later life: A cross-sectional observational study. Preventive Medicine. 2014.