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There are calls for dogs to be prescribed to older people in the UK as part of physiotherapy programmes to improve both their physical and mental wellbeing.
New research from the University of East Anglia and the Centre for Diet and Activity Research at the University of Cambridge found that people who walk their dog every day maintain higher levels of fitness even during periods of bad weather than their counterparts who do not own a pet pooch in the summer months, when activity levels typically increase.
Naturally, the researchers already knew that fitness levels would be higher among regular dog walkers compared to those who do very little exercise, but they did not realise that there would be such a stark difference between the fitness levels of these two groups, particularly when the weather was also taken into account.
It was found that dog owners spent less time sitting down being inactive on the coldest and wettest days of the year than non-dog owners did on the sunniest days, despite the average person increasing their physical activity levels when the sun comes out.
These findings therefore suggest that owning a dog, or having access to one that they are able to walk regularly, could have significant benefits for people who need to improve their fitness levels or who are taking part in physiotherapy programmes.
With this in mind, some are calling for dogs that need walking to be prescribed to patients who need to walk more as part of their physiotherapy plan.
Lead study author Professor Andy Jones commented: "Physical activity interventions typically try and support people to be active by focusing on the benefits to themselves, but dog walking is also driven by the needs of the animal.
"Being driven by something other than our own needs might be a really potent motivator and we need to find ways of tapping into it when designing exercise interventions in the future."
Written by Mathew Horton
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