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Man’s Best Friend Key to Improved Health

Study Tests Ways to Increase Walking in Dog Owners

A new study will test ways to encourage dog owners to walk more.

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Regular dog walkers tend to be healthier than non-dog owners.  But not all dog owners walk their dogs. A new collaborative study by UMass Lowell and UMass Medical Center hopes to change that by finding ways to get all dog owners moving.

The alarming rise of obesity in the United States 
— along with obesity-related illnesses such as, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and arthritis -- is driving health-care providers and researchers to find innovative ways to motivate people to increase physical activity. Targeting dog owners presents a huge opportunity for improved health since 39 percent of all U.S. households own at least one dog, according to the U.S. Human Society.

The $175,000 study, “A community-based social networking intervention to increase walking in dog owners,” is led by Asst. Prof. Kristin Schneider of UMass Medical School with partners Assoc. Prof. Stephanie Lemon of UMass Medical School and UMass Lowell Assoc. Prof. Cynthia Ferrara and Asst. Prof. Deirdra Murphy. The team will research ways to increase dog walking in Lowell and Worcester.

“We aim to increase the physical activity of dog owners through social opportunities that will provide further motivation,” says Murphy of the Department of Physical Therapy. “We plan on holding focus groups, assessing communities for walk-ability and safety as well as testing the use of practical items such as pedometers, online communities and inspirational newsletters.”

The two-year study is funded by the UMass Clinical and Translational Science Award.