Monday, October 29, 2012

For the dogs

When Jacqueline Epping first told her colleagues she was interested in using dog walking to promote health, they weren’t always on board.

“The first reaction that I would get from people a lot of times was, ‘are you kidding?’” Epping, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Physical Activity and Health Branch, told an overflow crowd at Monday's “Benefits of the Human-Animal Interaction” session.

But in the past decade, a growing body of literature shows a strong relationship between dog walking and health.

“Dogs can and do increase physical activity, and we even see some secondary health benefits,” Epping said.

The body of knowledge around dog walking is “relatively young,” she said, but there is a “robust body of evidence” as to the health benefits of pets, including lower cholesterol and blood pressure, reduced stress, improved mental health, speedier recovery, increased longevity after a heart attack and improved quality of life among older adults, just to name a few.

Ann Toohey, a PhD student at the University of Calgary, talked of a study she participated in that found frequent dog walkers were more than 10 times more likely to meet the recommended guideline of 150 minutes of weekly physical activity and twice as likely to report feeling a sense of community.

Rebecca Johnson, a University of Missouri professor and co-author of such books as “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound” and “The Health Benefits of Dog Walking for Pets & People,” said her research has found dog walking led to increased walking speed for older adults.

How do dogs help their owners stay active?

“A dog sitting at the front door with a lead in its mouth can create expectations, as well as being a walking buddy, if you will, a companion,” Epping said.

Dog walking can also be a catalyst for environmental and policy changes to improve the walkability of our communities. Sounds like a win-win. 

Epping coordinates the International Dog Walking and Activity Group and invites fellow public healthers to join the informal group that shares research findings and funding opportunities by e-mailing her at Johnson would love to see some of you at the International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organizations meeting this July in Chicago.

— D.C.

Illustration courtesy iStockphoto


Jeein Chung said...

Programs like these at the APHA Annual Meeting represent the importance of health issues at the animal-human interface, and can be attributed to the Veterinary Public Health SPIG. Please continue to show your support by engaging veterinarians and other allied health professionals in the conversation!

Rudy Owens said...

There is a lot of research taking place, including in work settings, court settings, and even gun trauma/mass killing settings that highlights the proven health benefit of human-dog interactions. Rebecca Johnson has been quoted in news stories on how dogs improve workplace productivity. The King County court system (WA state) has been using assistance dogs for seven to provide comfort to abuse victims in a courthouse setting. Don't forget how valuable pets were in helping victims of shooting trauma at Northern Illinois University following the killing of five persons on that campus in 2008. Glad to see interest in this line of research.

Rudy Owens said...
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