Having a dog could be the perfect way to combat some of the physical and emotional health issues facing many members of the older generation, a recently released study has shown. Elderly people are believed to benefit from the higher levels of exercise that pet ownership requires as well as increased social interactivity and lower blood pressure.
These findings have been announced after a UK study of about 80 people above the age of 70. The participants resided all across the UK and half of them were dog owners. The team of researchers behind the study, which were based at institutions including Glasgow Caledonia University and the University of Lincoln, observed activity monitors worn by the study volunteers over the course of one year.
The results published in the medical journal, BMC Public Health, found that the dog owners in the group walked, on average, for 22 minutes longer each day and were more likely to meet the recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week.
Does Owning a Dog Lead to Physical Exercise?
It is well known that people of every age benefit greatly from regular physical activity and we are all encouraged to get moving for a minimum of 150 minutes every week. However, one problem that faces the older generation is that it can become more difficult to meet these requirements as we get older. Studies have shown a number of factors can contribute to this, including lack of motivation to get out and get active when living alone, alongside other health conditions and injuries.
This is why having a dog could be such a beneficial addition to an older person’s life. Owning a dog means that walking becomes part of your daily routine, with dog owners getting around 22 minutes more activity per day. On days that elderly people might feel unmotivated to get outside and get some exercise, the responsibility of walking the dog might just be the push they need.
Why it’s so Important to Stay Active as you get Older
Regular physical activity is essential for people of all ages as it boosts the metabolism, aids the digestion process, lowers blood pressure, prevents obesity and lowers the risk of contracting conditions like diabetes. It is even more important that older people keep active because they are more at risk from all of these health issues, which is why having a dog could be such a great option in later years.
Unfortunately, although exercise becomes more crucial later on in life, it also becomes more difficult. Many people over the age of 65 spend around 10 hours each day sitting or lying down, making them the most sedentary age group.
A sedentary lifestyle can make it hard to enjoy the things which usually give you pleasure and physical fitness. You might find yourself getting tired and out of breath when playing with grandchildren, walking to the shops or socialising with friends. In addition to finding yourself with less energy, you may also begin to experience aches and pains which make it even more difficult to get out and pursue the activities you enjoy. All of these issues can be helped or halted entirely with the gentle, regular exercise that comes with having a dog.
Emotional Benefits of Owning a Dog
As well as the many physical health benefits that come along with it, having a dog can also help older people to feel less lonely. Loneliness is a serious concern in over 65s, with more than one million people in this age group saying that they often feel lonely and around 50% saying that they rarely spend time with friends or family.
Having a dog has been shown to alleviate symptoms of depression, loneliness and isolation. As well as being a great source of companionship in their own right, pets require owners to get out more regularly and have a routine which encourages them to make new friends and meet up more often.
What to Think About Before Getting a Dog
The fact that there are so many advantages to dog ownership in later years might be reason enough for you or an older relative to get a four-legged friend. But it is important to remember that as people age very differently, the type of dog you get will be a very unique decision to you.
One of the first things you should think about before going ahead and making the new addition is just how set in your ways you are. If you do not like change and struggle to adapt to new situations, then getting a dog is probably not for you as it will cause major disruptions to your current routine. It is also suggested by the age therapist Amy Sherman that older people do not get a pet if they have never owned one before.
Also, while dogs have been shown to be excellent companions for older people who have been struggling to socialise and exercise as much as they would like to, most dog breeds will not be well suited to those who are seriously physically challenged. Anyone who is too frail and infirm to walk a dog on a daily basis and give it the attention it needs may be better off with a cat or indoor bird.
Have a look at this guide to find out exactly what breed of dog would be the best fit for you.