Dogs increase life expectancy in elderly, according to a new study, which found the fitness level of dog owners who are 65 or over is equivalent to someone 10 times younger than them.
Researchers studied more than 500 people over 65 years old, and found that the ones who had dogs were 12 percent more active than those that didn’t . The study, which was done at St. Andrews University, found that owning a pet helped boost their physical health as well as mental health.
This is not the first study to show that dogs can have a positive effect on people, more specifically on seniors, but it is the first to compare the activity levels of older people who have dogs with those that don’t.
As noted on Dog Food Spy, on average, seniors who owned a dog achieved roughly the same level of exercise as people that were a decade younger than them, training dogs with collars. The study also showed that the dog owners had significantly lower levels of depression and anxiety. It was published in Preventative Medicine, and is the first of its kind to examine the exercise levels of people age 65 and over who do not own dogs.
Other studies have been done on how dog ownership affects the elderly, and they have shown that these dog owners have lower blood pressure levels and decreased heart rates.
Study methods and results
547 seniors were monitored for this study, which was performed in the Tayside area of Scotland, and their average age was 79.
About 50 percent of the people owned dogs, and of that 50 percent approximately 75 percent walked their dogs regularly. Over a 7-day period the participants of the study were required to wear an accelerometer that measured their movement.
Study’s lead researcher Dr. Zhiqiang Feng said:
“Our results suggest that dog ownership may motivate personal activity and enable older people to overcome many potential barriers such as lack of social support, inclement weather, and concerns over personal safety.”
Dr. Feng suggests that health officials should set up dog lending programs so seniors without pets can spend time with a canine companion. He also proposes they try to set up walking groups to encourage exercise and healthy living.
In fact, Dr. Feng is so confident that these practices could promote health and wellness in our elderly community that he also adds:
“Our findings suggest that there may be merit in investigating whether dog ‘owning’ or ‘loaning’ might be a plausible public health intervention to promote physical activity.”
The findings of the study show that seniors don’t necessarily need to own the dogs themselves, but would still benefit greatly from spending time with canines on a regular basis. However, since this was just a cross-sectional observational study, results should be taken with a grain of salt.
More research will need to be done on the topic in order to figure out just how many benefits there are for seniors that spend a large amount of time with dogs, but this study definitely suggests a possible backup of the proposed hypothesis.
With mental and physical health benefits already proven, it goes to show that elderly folks should certainly be looking into spending a little more time with a canine companion. So if your grandparents don’t yet have one, adopting from a local shelter would be a multiple win situation.
- Feng Z et al. Dog ownership and physical activity in later life: A cross-sectional observational study. Prev Med. 2014 Sep;66:101-6. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2014.06.004