Dogs `help people stay active`

Washington: A dog is more than a man`s best friend -- they are also a social support tool for being active, says a new study.

Researchers at Virginia University have carried out the study on dog ownership and adolescent physical activity and found the canines could be the key to getting sedentary teens off the couch.

"You can think of your dog not only as your best friend, but also a social support tool for being active," said John Sirard, who led the study.

In the study, Sirard and his colleagues surveyed 618 pairs of Minneapolis adolescents and their parents about the number of dogs in their home and how much time they spent in physical activity.

For a week, 318 of the teens also wore accelerometers -- devices used to collect data on time spent moving.

It turns out that teens from dog-owning families recorded greater amounts of movement on the accelerometer devices, even after researchers took into account demographic variables, like gender, race and socioeconomic status.

That might mean that teens with dogs could log about 15 additional minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week, according to the researchers.

The association with adolescent physical activity took the researchers by surprise. They expected that if anyone in the family were to walk the dog, it would be the parents.

"If dog ownership has an effect, we hypothesised it would have an effect on adults, but we didn`t see that. We saw it in the kids," Sirard said.

Finding ways to encourage teens` physical activity levels is critical, since time spent exercising drops precipitously after the elementary school years, said Cheryl B Anderson of Baylor College of Medicine.

Despite the link that researchers established between dog ownership and teenagers` physical activity, they said they could not be certain that getting a dog means people will be more active.

"You may walk it, you may not, but the fact that you have this animal in the house makes you get up off the chair more. Every bit of activity is important," Anderson said.

The findings are to be published in an upcoming edition of the `American Journal of Preventive Medicine`.