Dogs Help Keep Seniors Healthy

Dogs are among the favorite pets of senior citizens and studies have shown that dogs can help keep seniors healthy by encouraging their owners to exercise and join in other activities with them.

One-third of all dog owners polled say they exercise with their four-legged friends, according to an AARP Bulletin survey.

Walking is by far the preferred way to exercise with a dog. Nearly two-thirds (61 percent) of people age 65-plus and 54 percent of those ages 50 to 64 stroll with their dog for fitness. The poll, which surveyed 1,062 people age 50 and older.

Playing catch, ball or Frisbee with their dog is the fitness routine for 42 percent of those age 50 to 64 and for 26 percent of respondents age 65-plus. Other favorite ways to exercise with their dog are jogging and wrestling.

How often pet owners work out with their dogs varies considerably. Perhaps work or other responsibilities get in the way, but people ages 50 to 64 (22 percent) are less likely than the older adults (33 percent) to exercise with their dogs more than once a day. About 17 percent of those polled say they exercise with their best canine friend two to three times per week; 15 percent say they never exercise with their dog.

A majority of people (59 percent) say they get about the same amount of exercise as they did before they got their dog; 29 percent say they work out more.

Research suggests that dogs can help keep seniors healthy when their owner exercises with them. Seniors are also more likely to stick to a fitness program if they have a pet dog that is active. Exercise provides the same benefits for both creatures: It helps to keep muscles and joints flexible and to control weight.

Companionship was the major reason 71 percent of respondents age 65-plus decided to get a pet. The same was true for 56 percent of those ages 50 to 64. About one in 10 took in a pet for security purposes or as a child’s playmate.

Caring for a pet dog is not for everyone. Dogs entail a lot of responsibility. They must be fed regularly and always have access to fresh water. They need to be let out in a fenced yard or taken for a walk at least twice a day to take care of their biological functions. Besides the cost of daily food, regular checkups by a vet and vaccinations can overburden someone who is dependent upon Social Security for retirement. For these reasons, sixty percent of people 65-plus, and 37 percent of those 50 to 64, say they don’t own a pet.