I’ve written many blog posts recently about ideas to get American adults and kids more physically active. I think it is critical that everyone tries to achieve the standards set by the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans produced by the Department of Health and Human Services. These guidelines recommend at least 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity three times per week. Obviously strenuous exercise, such as running and other forms cardiovascular exercise, and sports are excellent ways to achieve these goals. Plus I encourage both children and adults to try to figure out ways to change their normal activities in ways that increase the activity involved. Here is another idea: walk your dog.

Dog owners who walk their dogs are more active than those who don’t.

A new study published in the March issue of The Journal of Physical Activity and Health suggests a potentially great idea for all Americans to become more active. The study, presented by Matthew J. Reeves et al., looks at whether owning a dog and walking the dog are associated with increased physical activity. They gathered data from the 2005 Michigan Behavioral Risk Factor Survey to try to determine if a relationship existed between owning a dog and physical activity.

The authors found that people who own a dog are more active overall and walk more. Dog owners who take their dogs for walks on average walk about one hour more per week than the one-third of dog owners who don’t walk their dogs. Interestingly they also found that younger Americans and the elderly walked their dogs the most and that people with large dogs (weighing over 45 pounds) walked longer than owners of smaller dogs. Finally the study seems to suggest that the benefits of owning a dog, as it pertains to physical activity, may actually be more than just the actual walking, as dog owners seem to be more physically active than non-dog owners in general.

Walk your dog to get some exercise.
Take your dog outside for a walk and get some exercise yourself.

When I heard about this study, I was not terribly surprised. I am encouraged to discuss it, as I always like to find easy ideas to stimulate physical activity. For instance, I think it is helpful to take the stairs instead of an elevator whenever possible. Also, parking at the end of the parking lot away from stores and businesses forces people to walk a little bit more with their normal activities. Owning and taking steps to walk your dog are more examples of easy changes to implement.

What this study did not address, but most dog owners will tell you, is that the benefits of having a dog are not just seen with physical activity. Most of my friends who have a dog point out the happiness that comes when their dogs greet them when they get a home from school or work. They also love taking their dogs to the park and the beach. So to everyone out there who owns a dog – get outside and walk your dog. It just might improve your health too.

Note: A modified version of this post appears in the Be Active Your Way Blog maintained by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. I wrote it on behalf of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine to celebrate May as National Physical Activity Month.