Apologies to cat lovers, but we know a dog is a man’s best friend. A 2016 study suggests that a canine buddy offers more than friendship and a warmed lap. Dog ownership may positively affect the pet owner’s health and quality of life in a variety of ways.

The goal of the study, facilitated by researchers from the University of Missouri, was to understand the influence of dog ownership on a person’s health and walking behavior. The study analyzed 2012 data from the Health and Retirement Study sponsored by the National Institute on Aging and the Social Security Administration. Researchers found that people with dogs tended to have a lower BMI, visited the doctor less frequently, exercised more often and were more social than those who didn’t have a dog (or any other type of pet).

“This study provides evidence for the association between dog walking and physical health using a large, nationally representative sample,” explained study author Rebecca Johnson, PhD. Despite the benefits, the authors could not identify a strong link between dog ownership and increased physical activity. They did note that the people who were most closely bonded with their dogs walked more often and for longer periods of time.

Johnson and her team believe this study may offer another avenue to greater health and happiness for older adults.

“These results can provide the basis for medical professionals to recommend pet ownership for older adults and can be translated into reduced health care expenditures for the aging population,” Johnson concluded.

The study was published in The Gerontologist (2016; 10.1093/geront/gnw051).

Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor. He is a long-time author and presenter for IDEA Health & Fitness Association, fitness industry consultant and former director of group training for Bird Rock Fit. He is also a Master Trainer for TriggerPoint.

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