Most of us need to get more exercise. We spend too much time in front of a computer, in front of the TV, and in front of the dinner table.
It turns out having a dog might be a good way to improve your physical activity. Epidemiologist Mathew Reeves led a team of researchers from Michigan State University who found that people who walked their dogs were 34 percent more likely to be considered "physically active," when measured by current federal benchmarks.
"Walking is the most accessible form of physical activity available to people," Reeves said. "What we wanted to know was if dog owners who walked their dogs were getting more physical activity or if the dog-walking was simply a substitute for other forms of activity."
According to the data, dog walkers do indeed appear to be more active. Reeves says the results show that promoting dog ownership and dog walking could help many Americans - of which fewer than half meet recommended levels of leisure-time physical activity - become healthier.
Extra hour of walking per week
For example, the study showed people who walked their dogs generally walked about an hour longer per week than people who owned dogs but did not walk them. And all that extra exercise isn't just from taking Brutus around the block twice a day.
"Obviously you would expect dog walkers to walk more, but we found people who walked their dog also had higher overall levels of both moderate and vigorous physical activities," he said. "There appears to be a strong link between owning and walking a dog and achieving higher levels of physical activity, even after accounting for the actual dog walking."
Reeves says he isn't arguing that owning a dog will suddenly make your shed 15 pounds, but he does see a correlation between the human-animal bond that appears to have an overall positive impact on quality of life.
"The findings suggest public health campaigns that promote the responsible ownership of a dog along with the promotion of dog walking may represent a logical opportunity to increase physical activity," he said.
If you're thinking about adding a dog to your family, be sure to take the time to consider what breed will be most compatible with you and other family members. And when it's time to make a selection, try your local animal shelter, or animal rescue service first.