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A healthy combination

Studies show dogs make great companions and help you stay in shape

Created date

January 10th, 2017
Marsha Smith and her five-year-old pug-Labrador mix, Pokey, enjoy walking around Oak Crest’s 87-acre campus.

Marsha Smith and her five-year-old pug-Labrador mix, Pokey, enjoy walking around Oak Crest’s 87-acre campus.

Health experts recommend adults get at least 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic activity each week. If you are one of the 37% of households in the United States that own a dog, chances are you’re meeting that goal. 

A study led by Michigan State University (MSU) found dog owners are 34% more likely than non-dog owners to fit in 150 minutes of walking per week. The study also found that owning a dog promotes health and fitness aside from walking, increasing leisure-time physical activity by 69%.

“Obviously you would expect dog walkers to walk more, but we found people who walked their dog also had higher overall levels of both moderate and vigorous physical activities,” says Mathew Reeves, a professor in the Department of Epidemiology in the College of Human Medicine at MSU. “There appears to be a strong link between owning and walking a dog and achieving higher levels of physical activity, even after accounting for the actual dog walking.”

Another study conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found older pet owners have better mobility. The report showed adults age 71 to 82 who regularly walked their dogs had more mobility inside their house than non-pet owners.

Four-legged friendly

With 87 sprawling acres featuring a large lake, shade trees, and open green spaces, Oak Crest, an Erickson Living community in Parkville, Md., offers plenty of room for dog owners to exercise with their canine companions.  

Marsha Smith’s five-year-old pug-Labrador mix, Pokey, keeps her active and in a daily routine. 

“He likes to take walks around the lake and roll in the grass,” says Marsha, who rescued Pokey from a Baltimore County animal shelter. “I have a terrace-level apartment, so it’s easy to just go right out the door with him for walks. Whenever we are out walking, people come up and want to say hi and pet him.”  

Research shows dogs are a great way to make human connections. A study by Great Britain’s Warwick University found that 40% of people reported making friends more easily as a result of owning a dog.

Another recent social experiment conducted by the Pedigree dog food company during the 2016 presidential race sought to show how dogs bring out the good in people. In the experiment, people from opposing political parties worked together to reunite a lost dog with its owner. The result? Supporters from both sides bonded over their love of dogs.

Janet Hare sees firsthand the joy her seven-year-old Tibetan spaniel Chappy brings to people as they walk together around Oak Crest. 

“He loves walking around the community and meeting people,” says Janet. “He greets everyone he sees.” 

A pet-friendly community was a must for Janet when she began researching retirement communities. 

“I would have never chosen Oak Crest if I weren’t allowed to bring Chappy with me,” she says. “I’ve had him since he was a puppy. I think he actually adjusted to moving faster than I did. He’s right at home.”

Tail-waggin’ good time

Oak Crest celebrates pets throughout the year with events like a blessing of the pets each October to commemorate the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, the Catholic Church’s patron saint of animals and the environment.

The community also held a dog show last year, open to all Oak Crest residents and their pets. Chappy was among a mix of a dozen dogs that competed in the Oak Crest Canine Cup. To showcase their talents, owners entered their dogs in one or more of four categories—Best Costume, Best Trick, Waggiest Tail, and Best in Show. 

A three-member panel of judges graded the dogs using a scoring system that accounted for enthusiasm, charm, appearance, and creativity. 

“The Canine Cup was great,” says Brooke Conlan, whose two Pomeranian pups, Poppy and Teddy, competed for Waggiest Tail. “It’s so nice they have an event for the dog lovers in the community. I moved to Oak Crest a year and a half ago, and it would have been a deal breaker for me if I couldn’t have brought my dogs.”

Dogs aren’t the only animal friends welcome at Oak Crest. Cats, birds, and fish are just as popular.