If the thought of unconditional love, hours of happy companionship and unwavering loyalty was not enough to persuade you to get a pet dog, this research might swing it.
A new study shows that having a dog makes people healthier and ultimately live longer.
A group in the US has found older people who look after dogs benefit from the exercise of regular walks, giving them a lower body mass index (BMI) and making them visit their doctor less.
'Our study explored the associations between dog ownership and pet bonding with walking behavior and health outcomes in older adults,' said Rebecca Johnson, a professor at the MU College of Veterinary Medicine.
The researchers, at the University of Missouri, looked at data from the 12th wave (2012) of the Health and Retirement Study, a panel study that surveys a representative sample of approximately 20,000 people in America over the age of 50 every two years.
The study used data about human-animal interactions, physical activity, frequency of doctor visits and health outcomes of the participants.
'Our results showed that dog ownership and walking were related to increases in physical health among older adults,' said Professor Johnson.
'These results can provide the basis for medical professionals to recommend pet ownership for older adults and can be translated into reduced health care expenditures for the aging population.'
Dog walking was found to be linked with lower BMI, fewer doctor visits, more frequent exercise and an increase in social benefits.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults of all ages should engage in 150 or more minutes of moderate physical activity per week.
Among adults 60 years of age or more, walking is the most common form of leisure-time physical activity because it is self-paced, low impact and does not require equipment.
The study also determined older adults who also are pet owners benefit from the bonds they form with their canine companions.
Retirement communities should also be encouraged to incorporate more pet-friendly policies including dog walking trails and dog exercise areas so that their residents could have access to the health benefits, Professor Johnson said.
Having access to a garden, living near a park or within reach of the countryside also helps people live longer, according to another study conducted by Harvard University.