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Walk A Hound, Lose a Pound, & Stay Fit for Seniors

      Background: Obesity rates in older adults are linked with the national problem of limited physical activity (PA), resulting in chronic illness. Obesity-related illness and functional loss require innovative interventions. Older adult dog walkers maintained physical functioning over a 3 year period (Thorpe 2006). Dog walking may improve long-term PA by improving readiness and physical function.
      Purpose: The study aimed to test the association between dog walking and physical functioning.
      Methodology: A three-group, repeated measures design tested efficacy of a 12-week (5 days/week) shelter dog walking program for community-dwelling adults over age 65. Three retirement facilities were assigned to the shelter dog walking (DW), human walking companion (HWC), or no-treatment control (C) group. DW group members selected a dog matching their walking capability and walked on a paved road at the animal shelter. HWC group members walked with a friend or spouse on a paved road at their residence. Both groups were accompanied by study staff. Pretest, mid-trial and posttest findings included 6-minute walk, weight, physical activity during the previous week, physical activity stage of change, mood and social support.
      Findings: Fifty-four adults participated {DW n=12, HWC n=23 & C n=19}. Fourteen males & 40 females, ranged in age from 67-97 years (Mean=85). The 6-minute walk compared pre and post for the DW group increased 28% (p=0012), the HWC had a 4% increase (p=032), and the C group a 6% increase (p=018).
      Summary Concluding Statement: DW group participants expressed affinity for the shelter dogs. The DW group's walking ability improved significantly. They stated that their balance and walking confidence improved They stated that they liked the program because it “gets me out,” “is helping me to feel more confident,” and “is fun.” Dog walking may be beneficial to improve or maintain functioning in older adults. Walking speed is an important indicator of balance.