MU researchers say dogs can affect their older owner's physical health

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COLUMBIA - Researchers at the University of Missouri found a new link between dogs and their impact on the health of older owners.

A team led by Rebecca Johnson, professor at the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, discovered a positive relationship between older adults' physical health and the bond that owners have with their dog.   

The study found that dog owners who walk their dogs regularly have a significantly lower BMI than people who do not. Other health benefits of the regular dog walkers included fewer chronic health conditions such as diabetes, cancer, and high blood pressure.

"Those who walked their dogs had fewer everyday limitations in their daily activities," said Jessica Bibbo, a graduate research assistant at the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction (ReCHIA).  

Bibbo said the most important finding is that the owner's bond with the dog facilitated the dog walking. Those owners who had a higher degree of bond with their dog were more likely to spend time and engage in activity with their dog.

 "This activity is what really allowed for the health benefits," Bibbo said.  

The population analyzed in the study included 500 non-dog owners and 271 dog owners. The adults surveyed were 50 years of age or older. According to Johnson, the sample was purposely chosen to be representative of the national population.

The results from the study are consistent with previous dog walking research at the ReCHAI. 

"In our previous research, we were able to show that we could improve older adults' walking speed by having them walk with shelter dogs on a regular basis," Johnson said.  

Johnson has also published two books based on her research into dog walking.

"The beauty of dog walking is that is does benefit both sides of the leash," she said.

The journal Gerontologist recently published the study. More information on Johnson and her team's research can be found on the MU website