Researchers in Britain have identified an important benefit from keeping animals as pets as people age – they partake in significantly more moderate exercise than non pet owners.
Pet owners also found it easier to fall asleep and consistently felt better about their local environment than non pet owners.
The findings, reported in the journal BMC Geriatrics, relate to the Whitehall II study, which began in 1985. The study comprises 10,308 civil servants working in 20 London-based civil service departments, across a wide variety of roles.
Since the study began, participants have self-completed a questionnaire every two years and had a medical examination every five years.
Gill Mein and Robert Grant, from Kingston University and St George’s, University of London, undertook a cross-sectional examination of 6575 participants in the Whitehall II study aged between 59 and 79.
They found that two in every seven people (29%) owned a pet and, of those, 64% were very attached to their pet.
Of the 1929 pet owners, 11% owned dogs, 18% cats, 4% fish, 1% birds and 2% owned other animals. The most common “other” pets were rabbits (31), tortoises (24), horses and ponies (16), guinea pigs (14), chickens and poultry (11), and hamsters (10).
Pet owners undertook significantly more mild exercise than the non pet owners. Moderate exercise was also significantly higher in pet owners than non pet owners.
Dog owners exercised more than the owners of other pets, but there were no significant differences with vigorous exercise.
The researchers also found that pet owners were significantly more positive about their neighbourhood than non-owners, while dog owners were even more positive than owners of other pets.
Pet owners were, on average, 1.5 years younger than non-owners, as well as more likely to be married or cohabiting, less likely to be retired, and more likely to be involved in social activities.
They were more likely to be in the middle occupational grade and less likely to be in the lowest.
The researchers also reported that pet owners found it easier to fall asleep, even after adjusting for confounders, with borderline evidence for a particular benefit from owning a dog.
“Pet owners consistently felt better about their local environment than non-owners, and dog owners were more positive about their environment than owners of other pets, but this did not appear to be the mechanism affecting sleep.”
A cross-sectional exploratory analysis between pet ownership, sleep, exercise, health and neighbourhood perceptions: the Whitehall II cohort study
Gill Mein and Robert Grant
BMC Geriatrics 2018 18:176 https://doi.org/10.1186/s12877-018-0867-3