Study: Owning a Dog Can Add 10 Years to Your Life


Chihuahua puppy, 4 months old, wearing pearl necklace, sitting and looking at camera against white b

  • People who own dogs act 10 years younger than their age, study finds
  • Owners typically do as much exercise as somebody 10 years their junior
  • They are also less likely to be put off walking in rain or cold weather

Forget punishing gym routines and expensive beauty creams. If you want to feel younger, get a dog.

Dog owners act ten years younger than their age, a study found.

The St Andrews University research showed that they not only more active, they are also mentally fitter. Researcher Dr Zhiqiang Feng said: ‘It is well known that pet ownership may help alleviate feelings of loneliness and depression in older people, but one area that has received little attention is the effect of dog ownership on the physical activity levels of the elderly.

‘Our results show that dog ownership is associated with an increased level of physical activity in the over-65s. On average, older dog owners were 12 per cent more active than their counterparts who did not own a dog.’

Dr Feng compared the mental and physical health of almost 550 pensioners from the Scottish city of Dundee and the surrounding area. The men and women wore a wristwatch-like device every day for a week to monitor their movement and answered a battery of questions about their mental health. Those with dogs did as much exercise, on average, as someone a decade younger.

Dr Feng said that the strong bond between man and dog may help owners overcome concerns about exercising in bad weather or walking alone. Dogs not only make people get out – they also boost the odds of them stopping and chatting to people when they are out and about.

Owners also enjoy the responsibility of looking after their dog and, of course, derive pleasure from playing with it. The researcher said: ‘Human beings and dogs have a special bond and many treat their dogs as their friends. Some even treat their dogs as their children.’

Writing in the journal Preventive Medicine, Dr Feng suggested that those who don’t have a dog might benefit from dog-sharing schemes. He said: ‘Our findings suggest that there may be benefit in investigating whether dog “owning” or “loaning” might be a plausible public health intervention to promote physical activity. ‘Our study is especially relevant in our increasingly ageing society and it is never too late for sedentary older people to take up exercise.’

Previous research has shown that dogs are better than cats at keeping loneliness at bay. However, cat owners may have the last laugh. Research suggests they are cleverer than those who have dogs.

By Fiona Macrae