June 22, 2004                                                            


Contact:  Christian Basi

Assistant Director

(573) 882-4430



Walking Dogs Makes for Healthier Hearts, MU Researcher Finds


COLUMBIA, Mo. ­— South Beach, Atkins, liquid diets, Jenny Craig, Slim Fast and now—Rex the German Shepard? A University of Missouri-Columbia researcher has found that taking your dog for a long daily walk can have a large, positive impact on your own health including significant weight loss.


“Some participants in our ‘Walking for Healthy Hearts’ program have lost as much as 30 pounds since we began six months ago,” said Rebecca Johnson, a professor of nursing and veterinary medicine at MU. “We’re also anticipating a lot of domino effects including better bone density, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, better blood sugar, and higher levels of certain ‘feel good’ hormones.”


The research project encourages economically disadvantaged, disabled participants to walk with dogs on a regular, graduated schedule. Johnson said the program began by having the participants walk 10 minutes per day, three times each week. The participants are now walking up to 30 minutes per day, five times each week. During rainy days, the participants walk on an inside route. Prior to the program, participants were given a full health assessment measuring such indicators as weight, lean body mass, bone density, blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, triglycerides, joint movement functional ability and mood. Participants were measured using the School of Health Professions Missouri Mobile Health van.


The dogs are provided by the Pet Assisted Love and Support program at the MU College of Veterinary Medicine. The dogs are pets of faculty and staff at the college and must pass rigorous safety training procedures and a “good citizenship” test before they are allowed to be in the program. In addition, all human participants in the program are fitted with new walking shoes.


“These dogs are making a difference in people’s lives,” Johnson said. “Many of our participants in the program have said that the walking is what they look forward to each day. The program also is stimulating participants to walk more than just during our programmed times. Knowing they are more mobile than before, some of our participants have started walking to accomplish daily errands.”


The Columbia Parks and Recreation department will take control of the program in the fall. Then Johnson and her colleague, Richard Meadows, clinical associate professor of veterinary medicine, will begin the program in another housing facility. Johnson believes the dogs also can help seniors adjust to their new surroundings.


“Moving to a new place can be very stressful for older adults,” Johnson said. “A friendly face that is ready with a smile, or wagging tail, may help make that move a lot easier, decrease the stress and create a friendlier environment.”