It may come as a surprise to many animal lovers that a Finnish study found a negative correlation between owning pets and personal health. A survey from the University of Turku of more than 21,000 Finnish adults found that pet owners were more likely to be overweight and to rate their own health as poor.
Many of those surveyed pet owners reported exercising rarely, presumably because many chose to simply put their dogs outside to do their daily business, reports the Rocky Mountain News. The study was published in the online journal PLoS One, by the Public Library of Science.
In contrast, a study published in the February 2006 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that dog owners in Victoria, British Columbia, got almost twice the amount of daily exercise (an average of 300 minutes a week) as men and women who didn't own dogs (an average of 168 minutes per week). Interestingly, those dog owners reported exercising less than others when walking was factored out.
At the same time, several studies have linked owning pets to reduced stress and it's well known that stress is a major risk factor for heart disease and other problems. For example, a study in the September/October 2002 issue of Psychosomatic Medicine found that companion animals can reduce stress more effectively than talking out problems with loved ones.
So what are people to make of all this research? It's obvious we don't know that much about the complex interactions of owning pets and our health, just as we have a great deal to learn about animals themselves. The celebrated integrative health expert Dr. Andrew Weil suggests that people refrain from making decisions about pet ownership solely based on perceived health benefits which is sound advice.
Taking care of pets is a big responsibility, but it should be noted that simply owning a dog doesn't automatically give you a free pass on exercise. You still have to get out and walk it! Maybe you'll have a little more incentive.
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