April Flowers for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Pets are our companions, our friends and our caregivers. They are good for our mental well-being, but what about our physical well-being? A new study from the University of Liverpool indicates that the well-being of both the pet and the owner could be improved with education and pet-friendly facilities.
The study, published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, suggests that communities invest in dog owner education and facilities to target inactivity and obesity in both pets and their owners.
The research team, led by population health scientist Dr. Carri Westgarth from Liverpool’s Department of Epidemiology and Population Health, conducted a literature review of studies published since 1990. They found that access to dog-friendly walking environments and better education about dogs’ physical needs motivate people to get out and take more exercise with their pets.
Studies estimate that at least 40 percent of dog owners do not walk their pets. Nearly one-quarter of all households in the UK own a dog, but less than 50 percent of adults meet the recommended level of 150 minutes of physical activity a week.
The research team from the University’s Institute of Infection and Global Health analyzed the results of 31 studies from the UK, US, Australia and Japan to understand how to motivate people to exercise using dog walking.
One common thread throughout the studies was the wide variety of understanding among dog owners of how much exercise their animal needs. This understanding had a direct effect on how much they walked their dog. The research team believes this could be addressed with education programs.
The researchers also found that people without access to high quality areas that support dog walking (dog parks that allow dogs off leash and provide waste disposal facilities, for example), are less likely to walk with their dog. Both the owner and the pet miss out on the associated health benefits.
Westgarth said, “It is easy to assume that people who own dogs are more likely to take exercise, but the reality can be very different. If all people who owned a dog walked with it every day, physical activity levels would be much improved, benefiting the health of both the owners and their canine companions.”
“There are a large number of reasons why people do or don’t walk their dog and it is worth considering how we can address this when designing strategies for reducing obesity, or when planning urban areas and public open space. Not being able to let their dog off the leash is a particular put-off.”
One finding that did not surprise the researchers is that the strength of the dog-owner bond is important. Dog owners with high attachments to their pets, and those who felt a great degree of support from their pets, were more likely to walk with them.
Dr. Westgarth said, “The study also found that some people are worried about their dogs’ behavior and may be less likely to take it out to the park – potentially out of embarrassment or worry about how it might act – but lack of walks may also be causing this bad behavior, due to boredom, frustration or lack of socialization.
“There aren’t many studies in this area at the moment, but with such a large proportion of people having a dog, it seems that better education, facilities and improved relationships with our pets could be a great way for a large portion of the population to feel encouraged to exercise.”
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