Pet ownership appears to support the health of older adults, although assessing its influence is difficult because healthier (and younger) older adults are more likely to own a pet. One benefit of dog ownership is the potential for increased physical activity and socializing that can result from frequent dog walking. Recreational walking and a sense of community (a feeling of involvement within one’s local area) are two potential benefits of frequent dog walking that can enhance the well-being of older adults. A recent Canadian study examined how dog ownership and neighborhood characteristics (demographic and environmental) might influence middle-aged and older adults’ levels of recreational walking and sense of community.
The researchers administered interviews and mail-based surveys to a randomly selected sample in the Calgary (Alberta) metropolitan area. Surveys were collected from 844 adults age 50 and better, who provided information on dog ownership, frequency of neighborhood walking (including dog walking), their own sense of community, and relevant demographic variables such as marital status, education, and income. The researchers were able to connect these individual surveys with neighborhood characteristics based on respondents’ addresses, and thus able to look at the influence on the neighborhood’s design, availability of green space, and population density.
Individuals who walked their dog four or more times per week were significantly more likely to report a greater sense of community, and to spend at least two and a half hours per week walking in the neighborhood. This was true even when statistically controlling for individual variables, such as health and length of time living in the neighborhood, suggesting that dog walking might be a productive way to encourage physically and socially healthy aging.
Toohey AM, McCormack GR, Doyle-Baker PK, et al. Dog-walking and sense of community in neighborhoods: implications for promoting regular physical activity in adults 50 years and older. Health & Place (2013); 22: 75–81.