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Dogs Help Keep Owners on the Fitness Track

Poll: Canines are among favorite pets and prompt many people to exercise

Poll: Dogs Help Keep Owners on the Fitness Track

— John Giustina/Getty Images

Dogs are the most popular pets and one-third of owners say they exercise with their four-legged friends, according to an AARP Bulletin survey.

Walking is by far the preferred way to exercise with Fido. Nearly two-thirds (61 percent) of people age 65-plus and 54 percent of those ages 50 to 64 stroll with their dog for fitness. The poll, which surveyed 1,062 people age 50 and older, was conducted between Feb. 24 and March 7, 2010.

Playing catch, ball or Frisbee with their dog is the fitness routine for 42 percent of those 50 to 64 and for 26 percent of respondents age 65-plus. Other favorite ways to exercise with their pooch are jogging and wrestling, both 18 percent of those polled.

How often pet owners work out with their dogs varied considerably. Perhaps work or other responsibilities get in the way, but people ages 50 to 64 (22 percent) are less likely than the older adults (33 percent) to exercise with their dogs more than once a day, the survey found. About 17 percent of those polled say they exercise with man’s best friend two to three times per week; 15 percent say they never exercise with their dog.

A majority of people (59 percent) say they get about the same amount of exercise as they did before they got their dog; 29 percent say they work out more.

Research suggests that people who exercise with their pets are more likely to stick to a fitness program. Also, exercise provides the same benefits for both creatures: It helps to keep muscles and joints flexible and to control weight.

Companionship was the major reason 71 percent of respondents age 65-plus decided to get a pet, according to the poll. The same was true for 56 percent of those ages 50 to 64. About one in 10 took in a pet for security purposes or as a child’s playmate.

Susan Allison-Gephart, 61, who lives near Columbus, Ohio, says she was lonely after her daughter got married 10 years ago, so she brought home an African gray parrot named Buckeye. She also has a poodle she plays catch with, but it’s her mischievous parrot that keeps her hopping.

“The parrot is extremely demanding. He really forces me to move,” she says. “When he wants something, if I don’t get up and go see what he wants, he yells and yells until I come. He’s a handful. … He can fly, but he chooses for me to come get him.

“He’s like part of the family,” she says. “He calls me Sugar or Honey. He barks like the dog.”

Allison-Gephart is among 3 percent of respondents who say they own a bird. Other types of pets owned are cats (24 percent), dogs (38 percent) and reptiles (2 percent). Another 4 percent cited another pet.

Caring for a pet is not for everyone. Sixty percent of people 65-plus, and 37 percent of those 50 to 64, say they don’t own a pet.

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