GPs should prescribe dog ownership or dog walking to help older adults increase their physical activity, a study has suggested.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge and the University of East Anglia tracked 3,123 older adults, 18% of whom had dogs, using an accelerometer to constantly measure their physical activity level over a week.
The study found that dog owners are sedentary for 30 fewer minutes on average.
The researchers therefore suggested that encouraging dog ownership or dog walking ‘might form a potent component of interventions in primary care to support physical activity in older patients’.
The paper added: ‘Our findings suggest that dog ownership and walking may have considerable potential to support the maintenance of physical activity in older adults and could form part of exercise on prescription schemes.’
GPs in other parts of the country have referred patients over 65 to dance sessions aimed at improving strength and balance and reducing social isolation.
Prof Andy Jones, a researcher from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: ‘Physical activity interventions typically try and support people to be active by focussing on the benefits to themselves, but dog walking is also driven by the needs of the animal.
‘Being driven by something other than our own needs might be a really potent motivator and we need to find ways of tapping into it when designing exercise interventions in the future.’