It turns out our furry friends have more to offer us than companionship and unconditional love. According to Chicago physical therapist Dr. Marc Gregory Guillen, multiple studies show that dog owners are generally healthier and more likely to meet national fitness benchmarks than non-owners.
How likely? According to the American Heart Association, dog owners are 54 percent more likely to get the recommended level of physical activity each day.
“In general, pet ownership has proven to lead to a number of great health benefits associated with happiness, reducing stress and lowering blood pressure,” said Dr. Guillen, owner of Free Body Physical Therapy & Wellness in East Humboldt Park / Wicker Park. “But dogs are special. Because they need exercise and often demand it from us, they have a persistent way of urging us onto a path toward more exercise and better health.”
A 2013 study published in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health showed that dog owners take an average of 2,760 more steps per day compared with those who don’t have dogs. This amounts to 23 additional minutes of moderate exercise per day. Another more recent study published in 2017 by BMC Public Health backs these numbers.
According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), adults should get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (i.e., brisk walking) each week. And of course, achieving such benchmarks help individuals improve and maintain long-term health – both physical and mental wellness.
“Walking is one of the best physical activities nearly anyone can do,” Dr. Guillen said. “And, taking a dog out for a walk often makes the activity more enjoyable and feel less like exercise – less like a chore.”
Approximately 54.4 million U.S. households own at least one dog, based on stats from the Humane Society of the United States.
“Pets require lots of love, care and responsibility, and simply having one isn’t going to immediately put you on a path toward a healthier life. There are too many other factors to consider,” Dr. Guillen said. “However, if you love animals and could use some added motivation to get outdoors, dogs have a way of coaxing people in that direction.”
Lastly, Dr. Guillen points out that dog owners who have pain or a physical limitation holding them back from walking or playing with your pet should consider visiting a physical therapist, like those on the Free Body Physical Therapy & Wellness team. A physical therapist can provide a full pain and/or movement assessment with an eye toward getting pet owners (and would-be pet owners) back on track to more active, pain-free living.