It turns out our furry friends have more to offer us than companionship and unconditional love.

Based on multiple studies, dog owners are generally healthier and more likely to meet national fitness benchmarks than non-owners.

How likely? According to the American Heart Association, dog owners are 54 percent more likely to get the recommended level of physical activity each day.

“Obviously, you would expect dog walkers to walk more, but we found people who walked their dog(s) also had high overall levels of both moderate and vigorous physical activities,” said Mathew Reeves, an epidemiologist and Michigan State researcher whose 2011 study on this topic was published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health.

Another study in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health, this one published in 2013, showed that dog owners take an average of 2,760 more steps per day compared with those who don’t have dogs. This amounts to 23 additional minutes of moderate exercise per day.

“It’s no surprise that dog walkers are more active, but we were surprised by how big the difference is,” said researcher Andy Jones of the University of East Anglia in Norwich, U.K. “If we could achieve that level of activity with everybody, it would go a long way toward dealing with problems of obesity and aging.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), adults should get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (i.e., brisk walking) each week. And of course, achieving such benchmarks help individuals improve and maintain long-term health – both physical and mental wellness.

Approximately 54.4 million U.S. households own at least one dog, based on stats from the Humane Society of the United States. And while American Heart Association (AHA) is quick to say they’d never recommend getting a pet just for the sake of reducing the risk of heart disease, they do acknowledge dog lovers may have an advantage when it comes to prevention.

“In essence, data suggests that there probably is an association between pet ownership and decreased cardiovascular risk,” said Glenn N. Levine, M.D., professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and a representative for the AHA.

Dog owners who have pain or physical limitations keeping them from owning, walking or playing with a pet would benefit from visiting a physical therapist. A physical therapist can provide a full pain and/or movement assessment with an eye toward getting pet owners (and would-be pet owners) back on track to more active, pain-free living.

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