Researchers at the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health find that dog ownership increases the likelihood of physical activity in older women, particularly among women living alone.
Working to identify effective strategies to increase physical activity among older adults, particularly women, University of Arizona researchers have identified dog ownership as a key to better health. The findings were published in the journal Preventive Medicine, January 2015, Volume 70.
Regular physical activity can positively affect health outcomes in older adults, but only half of the older adults in the United States meet the current recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week. To identify effective strategies to increase physical activity in older women, researchers at the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health analyzed data from a diverse sample of nearly 160,000 postmenopausal women who were enrolled in the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) clinical trial or observational study.
The study, which focused on women ages 50-79 and WHI data gathered between 1993 and 1998, found that dog ownership was associated with a 14-percent increase of walking more than 150 minutes per week, compared to women who did not own dogs. The data also showed that living alone substantially modified the relationship between dog ownership and physical activity outcomes, particularly for walking and sedentary time. Among women who reported living alone, dog owners were 29 percent more likely to walk more than 150 minutes per week and 23 percent less likely to be sedentary more than eight hours per day, compared to those who did not own dogs.
“While relationships between dog ownership and physical activity have previously been studied in older women, the sample size and population diversity were limited. The WHI data allowed us to expand upon previous research, using data collected for dog ownership, walking and total physical activity, as well as sedentary time,” said lead author David O. Garcia, PhD, American College of Sports Medicine exercise physiologist with the Canyon Ranch Center for Prevention and Health Promotion at the UA Zuckerman College of Public Health and a postdoctoral fellow at the UA Cancer Center’s Cancer Prevention and Control Program.
Dr. Garcia said the findings provide an excellent strategy to combat the higher risk for chronic disease and mortality associated with sedentary behavior in older women. “Our findings strongly support the potential of dogs as a strategy to meet physical-activity guidelines. Health promotion efforts aimed at older adult women should highlight the benefit of regular dog walking for both dog owners and non-dog owners.”
The focus of Dr. Garcia’s research is to promote physical activity with healthy dietary behaviors and weight management as it relates to cancer risk reduction and survivorship with a particular emphasis on health disparities in Hispanics.
Dr. Garcia is studying the relationship between dog ownership and cancer risk among WHI participants. He is also a co-investigator on the UA Dog Study to examine if dogs improve your immune system.
The research team consisted of scientific investigator Betsy C. Wertheim, MS, with the UA Cancer Center and Cynthia A. Thomson, PhD, RD, professor at the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and director of the Canyon Ranch Center for Prevention and Health Promotion. Dr. Thomson is also a member of the UACC’s Cancer Prevention and Control Program.
The Canyon Ranch Center for Prevention and Health Promotion (CRCPHP) at the University of Arizona is focused on lifestyle-based prevention research and support of community-based wellness efforts aimed at improving health and reducing disease risk. The CRCPHP is based within the UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.