An experiment partly ran in Lincolnshire has ruled that doctors can help increase the level of physical activity for the elderly by prescribing them a dog.
A senior researcher at Glasgow Caledonian University suggested the proposal after discovering that dog-owners get more exercise than those without.
Their results showed that people aged 65 and over get approximately 22 minutes more of exercise under their belts compared to non-dog-owners just by taking their canines out for a walk.
To put that into perspective, the figure generated from the analysis of the 43 pairs of pensioners who own a pooch, across Lincolnshire as well as Derbyshire and Cambridgeshire would be enough to meet the minimum quota of 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week – as set out by the World Health Organisation.
Participants partaking in the study were asked to wear an activity monitor that was strapped to their thigh in order to count the number of steps they took.
Additionally, it was requested they keep a diary of their day.
As a result, researchers found that dog-owners took 10,030 steps a day compared to 7,260 for those without dogs.
In all the dog owners spent 119 minutes a day walking, 32 minutes at a moderate pace, compared to 96 minutes and 11 minutes for non-dog owners.
The results were then published , in the journal BMC Public Health, according to a national media outlet.
The findings suggested: ‘Owning a dog, may therefore motivate older adults to engage in appropriate levels of PA [physical activity] for health.
‘Health promotion professionals could consider encouraging appropriate dog ownership, or shared care of a dog to promote PA [physical activity] in older adults.’
Dr Philippa Dall, senior research fellow at Glasgow Caledonian University and lead author added: ‘We found that dog owners aged 65 and over spent on average an additional 22 minutes walking, taking an extra 2,760 steps per day when compared to people who didn’t own a dog.
‘Over the course of a week this additional time spent walking may in itself be sufficient to meet WHO recommendations of at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity.
The researchers also found that dog owners had fewer periods of sitting down – than non-dog owners, although the total time spent sitting down overall did not differ between the two groups.
Nancy Gee, of the WALTHAM centre for pet nutrition, a co-author of the study said: ‘Our results indicate that dog ownership may play an important role in encouraging older adults to walk more.
‘Ultimately, our research will provide insights into how pet ownership may help older people achieve higher levels of physical activity or maintain their physical activity levels for a longer period of time, which could improve their prospects for a better quality of life, improved or maintained cognition, and perhaps, even overall longevity.’
The 54 participants were all white British, including 54 women and 32 men, aged between 65 and 81.
Most of the dog owners had sole responsibility for care and walking the dog.
Some 69 per cent of the dogs were pedigree, and in a range of sizes – 33 per cent toy and small, 38 per cent medium, and 30 per cent large and giant.