Kids Need More Exercise? There’s a Dog for That

Kids Need More Exercise? There’s a Dog for That

Research shows that pets can be a source of deep comfort and security to children.

For youngsters suffering from Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), a pet can even help support healing from trauma by boosting their sense of safety, connection and resilience, according to the Child Trauma Institute.

And dogs offer a special side benefit: keeping them physically fit. That’s especially important for kids with ACEs because exercise can lower anxiety and depression.

Researchers first noticed dog-walking benefits among adults: Urban dog owners walk almost twice as much than neighbors without pet dogs, according to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Regular walks around the neighborhood mean aerobic exercise, a chance to mingle with neighbors, and — in many cases — reduced weight.

In fact, people in a University of Missouri study who walked “loaner” dogs 20 minutes daily for 50 weeks, for example, lost an average of 14 pounds — more than many people lose on popular diet plans.

These fitness benefits extend to children, research suggests. A study in the American Journal of Public Health, for example, found that children who had dogs devoted more time to vigorous physical activity and took more steps every day than children without pets. Outdoor play was also more common among kids with dogs, according to an article in Preventive Medicine.

And in an Australian study, researchers found children 5 to 12 who had a dog were healthier than those who didn’t. Compared to kids without a pooch, young children who played with their dog were less likely to be overweight or obese.

And if your teen is spending a lot more time on social media or video games than exercise, a family dog may be just what the doctor ordered. A study from the University of Virginia at Charlottesville found that teens with dogs got more exercise than their peers without pooches.

“As dog lovers, we know our dogs and their need for a daily ‘walkathon’ make us more active,” said Cameron Wood, editor of The Bark, a well-regarded dog magazine published in Berkeley, Calif. “Interestingly, studies show that people improve their overall fitness more with a four-footed companion than they do walking with other people.”

However, at least one researcher found dogs have little effect on kids’ weight and exercise levels. To ensure your pet does, you may want to start your own tradition of daily walks –with the family dog in tow.

One caution: Be sure you are prepared to take care of a lifelong pet before searching for a furry companion for the kids. Some researchers and vets have found evidence that dogs can suffer trauma, too — something that may come as no surprise to many pet owners. Since dogs bring us undying love and loyalty, it’s only fair that we repay them in kind.

References

Brown, SG, et al. Relationships among dog ownership and leisure-time walking among western Canadian Adults. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 30 (2).

Christian, H., et al. Dog Walking is Associated with More Outdoor Play and Independent Mobility for Children. Preventive Medicine 67: 259-263.

Fitzgerald, Faith T, MD. The Therapeutic Value of Pets. Western Journal of Medicine,1440(1):103-5.

Herzog, H. Can Dogs Help Solve Our Childhood Obesity Problem? The Animal Studies Repository.

Hudgson, K., et al. Pets’ Impact on your Patients’ Health: Leveraging Benefits and Mitigating Risk. Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, 28 (4): 526-534/

Owen, C.G., et al. Family dog ownership and levels of physical activity in childhood: findings from the Child Heart and Health Study in England. American Journal of Public Health.100: 1669-71.

Salmon,J.  Factors in Youth Physical Activity Participation: From Psychological Aspects to Environmental Correlates. Research in Sports Medicine, 18:1, 26-36

University of Missouri-Columbia College of Veterinary Medicine. Daily dog walks work off weight for owners, MU researchers find.

Veterinary Practice News. Can Dogs Suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? Sept.24, 2012.