Horse ownership keeps young women lighter and exercising more, study finds

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Young women who own horses tend to have a better body mass index, exercise more and burn more calories in a week than those who don’t have pets, the findings of a Czech study show.

The women with horses also got significantly more exercise than their dog-owning counterparts, with the findings indicating that just because someone owns a dog doesn’t necessarily mean they walk it.

Kristýna Machová and her colleagues, writing in the journal BMC Public Health, noted that many studies had investigated the impact of dog ownership, but not so many had explored the ownership of other pets.

Several studies, they said, have clearly demonstrated a direct link between health and the extent of regular physical activity.

It is well known that there is a gradual reduction of physical activity between the adolescent years and early adulthood.

“Many researchers have found that a greater percentage of adolescent males report being highly active compared to adolescent females, who report more frequent sedentary behaviour.

“It turns out that finding motivation to go for a walk or doing other forms of moderate intensity exercise at this age is crucial in preventing decrease in physical activity in future stages of life.”

They set out in their study to compare physical activity levels between animal owners and non-owners, and to look into potential differences between owners of different kinds of animals.

For their research, they enrolled 111 young women with an average age of 21 from 12 different locations within the Czech Republic. Sixty were animal owners, 51 were not. The authors said they specifically chose young women for their study as they are at higher risk of a decline in physical activity.

Their physical activity levels were assessed using a questionnaire, ultimately expressed in metabolic equivalent minutes per week (MET-minutes/week).

For analysis, subjects were divided into animal owners and non-animal owners. The animal owners group was further divided into subgroups, reflecting dog ownership, horse ownership, or other pets, such as cats, turtles, snakes, mice or birds.

The ages in the two groups did not differ significantly between the animal owners and the non-animal owners, nor did their body heights or years of education.

However, there was a significant difference between the two groups regarding body weight and body mass index, with the animal owners showing lighter weights and a lower body mass index (BMI).

The differences were even more marked when the non-animal owners were compared against the dog owners and the horse owners, with the latter being clear stand-outs in terms of lower body weights, exercise quantity and BMI.

Animal owners had an average weight of 60.39kg and an average BMI of 21.41, lower than the 63.39kg average weight of non-animal owners, whose average BMI was 22.25.

Animal owners’ total physical activity was calculated at 6212 MET-minutes/week compared with 3990 for non-animal owners. Animal owners expended 6391 calories a week in physical activity, compared with 4065 for non-animal owners.

The figures were more profound when the dog owners and horse owners were broken out in the statistics and compared to the pet-free young women.

Horse owner’s total physical activity was calculated at 6945 MET-minutes/week compared with 5199 for dog owners and 3990 for non-pet owners. Owners of pets other than horses and dogs also stood out in this regard, with 6558 MET-minutes/week.

In terms of total physical activity per week, horse owners expended 6945 calories, dog owners expended 5409 and non pet owners 4065. Owners of other animals expended 6776 calories.

The authors said the results show the possible positive influence of animal ownership on physical activity levels.

“What seems quite interesting is that dog owners did not show significantly higher walking activity compared to non-animal owners or owners of other animals.

In fact, the dog-owning group had the lowest recorded levels of moderate physical activity per week out of all the animal-owning groups. This, they noted, was contrary to another study, which reported higher moderate physical activity and walking activities in the dog owners.

“In contrast to that, reported physical activity in our dog-owner group is similar to the physical activity of the non-owner group.

“Moreover, the physical activity is significantly lower than in horse owners. This probably signifies that if people own a dog it does not necessarily mean that they walk it frequently.”

The highest physical activity was reported by horse owners, they said.

“We could speculate that there might be higher personal motivation in this group,” they suggested.

The researchers said an important finding of their study was that, since physical activity may vary depending on the animal species owned, it is necessary to focus on the diversity of physical activity among owners of specific animal species in future studies.

The study team comprised Machová, Helena Chaloupková and Ivona Svobodová, all with the Czech University of Life Sciences; and Klára Daďová, with Charles University in Prague, in the Czech Republic.

Machová, K., Daďová, K., Chaloupková, H. et al. Does having a pet influence the physical activity of their young female owners?. BMC Public Health 19, 1672 (2019) doi:10.1186/s12889-019-7962-z

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here

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