FRIDAY, Feb. 25 (HealthDay News) -- Teenagers who live in homes
with dogs get a bit more daily exercise than teens without pooches,
new research finds.
The study doesn't prove that dog ownership directly leads to
more active kids, but "there does still seem to be some association
between owning a dog and adolescent physical activity," said John
Ronald Sirard, an assistant professor of kinesiology at the
University of Virginia.
"What's causing it, we don't know yet," he added.
In the big picture, the study fits into wider research looking
at equipment in the home that boosts exercise, he said. "We see the
dog as one of those pieces of physical equipment," Sirard
There are, of course, plenty of reasons to own a dog other than
to get a teenager to move around more. Some studies have suggested
that pet owners are healthier than other people, although research
findings have been inconsistent. In terms of dogs in particular,
research from Australia has suggested that their adult owners are
more physically active than others.
In the new study, published in the March issue of the
American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers examined a 2006-2008 survey of 618 adolescent/parent pairs in the United States. The teenagers -- 49 percent were male and their average age about 14 -- wore devices to measure their physical activity.
White and wealthier families were more likely to own dogs. When
the researchers adjusted the figures to account for factors that
might throw off the results, they found that teens in families
without dogs got an average of 29.5 minutes of physical activity a
day compared to 32.1 minutes among those with dogs, Sirard
"It's a small difference, but it's a piece of a larger puzzle," Sirard said. "Anything we can do to tip the balance in favor of more physical activity is going to be a good thing, even though it's not the magic bullet."
However, neither dog owners nor non-owners got enough exercise
to meet current guidelines, which suggest an hour of activity a
Still, teens with dogs were less sedentary than their peers
without a four-legged friend, but it's unclear what specific role
the dog might play. Sirard said it could be that teens walk the
family dog or play with it. Or it may just be that families that
are more active have more dogs.
Katherine D. Hoerster, a postdoctoral fellow at the VA Puget
Sound Healthcare System, who has studied dogs and exercise, said
the ultimate goal is to get teens to be more active.
The study is "an important first step" in understanding whether
it would be useful to try to encourage dog walking in young people,
said Hoerster, who's familiar with the research findings.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about
teens and exercise.