Tag Archives: activity

Dog walking could be key to ensuring activity in later life

A new study has shown that regularly walking a dog boosts levels of physical activity in older people, especially during the winter.

Published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, the study used data from the EPIC Norfolk cohort study, which is tracking the health and wellbeing of thousands of residents of the English county of Norfolk.

The researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR) at the University of Cambridge found that owning or walking a dog was one of the most effective ways to beat the usual decline in later-life activity, even combatting the effects of bad weather.

Dog owners were sedentary for 30 minutes less per day, on average.

More than 3000 older-adults participating in the study were asked if they owned a dog and if they walked one. They also wore an accelerometer, a small electronic device that constantly measured their physical activity level over a seven-day period.

As bad weather and short days are known to be one of the biggest barriers to staying active outdoors, the researchers linked this data to the weather conditions experienced and sunrise and sunset times on each day of the study.

Lead author of the paper, Dr Yu-Tzu Wu, said “We know that physical activity levels decline as we age, but we’re less sure about the most effective things we can do to help people maintain their activity as they get older.

“We found that dog walkers were much more physically active and spent less time sitting overall. We expected this, but when we looked at how the amount of physical activity participants undertook each day varied by weather conditions, we were really surprised at the size of the differences between those who walked dogs and the rest of the study participants.”

The team found that on shorter days and those that were colder and wetter, all participants tended to be less physically active and spent more time sitting. Yet dog walkers were much less impacted by these poor conditions.

Project lead Prof Andy Jones, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “We were amazed to find that dog walkers were on average more physically active and spent less time sitting on the coldest, wettest, and darkest days than non-dog owners were on long, sunny, and warm summer days. The size of the difference we observed between these groups was much larger than we typically find for interventions such as group physical activity sessions that are often used to help people remain active.”

The researchers caution against recommending everyone owns a dog, as not everyone is able to look after a pet, but they suggest these findings point to new directions for programmes to support activity.

Prof Jones said: “Physical activity interventions typically try and support people to be active by focussing on the benefits to themselves, but dog walking is also driven by the needs of the animal. Being driven by something other than our own needs might be a really potent motivator and we need to find ways of tapping into it when designing exercise interventions in the future.”

Source:  University of East Anglia press release

 

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Dog sledding is an adventure for kids with cancer

A young cancer patient on the dog sled Credit: Emmanuelle Compte

A young cancer patient on the dog sled Credit: Emmanuelle Compte

A team of sled dogs racing through the snowy forests of northern Canada conjures up the timeless spirit of exploration. But the intrepid youths on the sleds may not be exactly what you’re picturing – they’re young girls and boys with cancer.

A common perception of the paediatric cancer patient is of a frail youth whose childhood experiences are tragically curtailed by the disease. Now, the results of a new preliminary study published in ecancermedicalscience show that children with cancer may benefit from a different kind of treatment – a healthy dose of adventure.

The study follows eleven children aged 10-18 years, and five chaperones including doctors and nurses, on an expedition organised by the French non-profit Sourire à la Vie, which supports the use of adapted physical activity for young cancer patients.

“What I learned from this study is that we doctors have the false belief that kids with cancer cannot practice sport because they are too tired or weak from their treatments,” says corresponding author of the study, Dr Nicolas André. He’s a paediatric oncologist at the Assistance Publique Hôpitaux de Marseille, France.

“These perceptions are at least partly wrong,” Dr André says. “Adapted physical activities can be performed by most children with cancer even during their treatment, and can bring a lot to children.”

All of the eleven children received adapted physical training and exercises before the expedition. The children successfully completed the programme without harm – and they demonstrated statistically significant improvement in both physical and psychological health.

The children participated in other activities, such as snow exercises, as well as caring for the sled dogs.

“One of the main reasons why we chose dog sledding was to create a unique sportive experience based on change of scenery and building a strong relationship with animals,” explains study author Frédéric Sotteau, founder of Sourire à la Vie.

The health and safety of the children was of paramount concern, Sotteau says. “We did not compromise regarding security, so we carefully prepared the expedition hand-in-hand with Canadian associations and doctors.”

“Based on our work over the last eight years, we all are convinced that practicing adapted physical activity is very positive for children with cancer,” comments study author Professor Laurent Grélot, a researcher at Aix Marseille University, France. “It avoids cardiovascular and muscular deconditioning, can decrease treatment induced fatigue, and can help maintaining social integration.”

“It is now time to demonstrate these results.”

Based on the success of this study, the researchers have collected enough funding to initiate a randomised trial to evaluate the benefits of adapted physical activities for children with cancer. But perhaps the best take-home message comes from the children themselves.

“Before my cancer diagnosis, I used to do a lot of sport, but then I lost self-confidence and my body was not able to cope with physical efforts,” says Merwan, an 18-year-old patient. “This trip in Canada transformed me. I am in shape again, and now I know I am able to practice sport again.”

“I have been dog sledding for 6 hours a day,” adds Nell, a 12-year-old patient. “I am very proud, and I feel so good now.”

Source:  AlphaGalileo media release

The benefits of being dog-friendly (Christchurch take note)

Here’s more research that backs up my position on dogs and the Christchurch rebuild.  Hopefully the CCDU and CERA will take note…

A study from the University of Liverpool has recommended investing in dog owner education and facilities as a strategy to target physical inactivity and problems such as obesity in both people and their pets.

The research team reviewed scientific papers published since 1990 (31 studies from the UK, USA, Australia and Japan) and found that access to dog-friendly walking environments and better education about dogs’ physical needs could all motivate people to get out and take more exercise with their pets.

An exercised dog is a healthy one, less likely to be obese, and who is less likely to develop behavioural problems like aggression and excessive barking. 

Among the most common findings of all studies was that dog owners have a varied understanding of how much exercise their dog needs. This affected how much they took their dog for a walk; something that could be addressed with education programs.

People without access to high quality local areas that support dog walking, for example parks where dogs are allowed off-leash and poo-disposal facilities are provided, were less likely to walk with their dog and missed out on the associated health benefits.

There are a large number of reasons why people do or don’t walk their dog and it is worth considering how we can address this when designing strategies for reducing obesity, or when planning urban areas and public open space. Not being able to let their dog off the leash is a particular put-off,” said Dr Carri Westgarth, co-author of the study.

Study authors Dr Carri Westgarth and Dr Hayley Christian take an off-lead walk (photo courtesy of University of Liverpool)

Study authors Dr Carri Westgarth and Dr Hayley Christian take an off-lead walk (photo courtesy of University of Liverpool)

The study also found that some people are worried about their dogs’ behaviour and may be less likely to take it out to the park – potentially out of embarrassment or worry about how it might act – but lack of walks may also be causing this bad behaviour, due to boredom, frustration or lack of socialisation.”

When I submitted to the CCDU in November 2012, I made the point that by having greater accessibility, owners have more opportunity to take dogs out – and that increases opportunity not only for exercise but also socialisation.   We want good ownership to be more visible in our communities – thus making it the norm.  Poor ownership would also be more visible – and subject to peer pressure combined with enforcement approaches.

Let’s have a dog-friendly central city with walking accessibility from one end to the other!

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

Source:  University of Liverpool media release

 

When something isn’t right with your senior dog

Old dog_dementiaWe love them to bits.  And gradually we notice changes that signal they are getting older.  They may no longer hear the doorbell and, thanks to this new deafness, they may sleep very deeply.

But  changes in an old dog need to be considered carefully.  Behavioral changes can often be the signs of other problems, like diabetes, hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, dental disease, and cancers.

One thing that I’m learning more about is canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS).  Veterinarians describe this as a ‘diagnosis of exclusion’ which means they look to diagnose another disease or disorder first before deciding that the dog is suffering from CDS.

When assessing for symptoms and severity of CDS, veterinarians follow the acronym DISHA.  DISHA stands for:

D= Disorientation

I = Interaction changes

S = Sleep/wake cycle changes

H = House soiling

A = Activity level changes

Disorientation can present as changes in spatial awareness, loss of ability to navigate around familiar obstacles, and/or wandering behavior.

Interaction changes can include a decreased interest in social interaction, petting, greetings, or dependent behaviors.

Restlessness or frequent waking during the night, panic or panting (particularly at night), and increased sleep during the daytime are indications of changes to sleep/wake cycles.

House soiling can increase when there is a loss of signal from the brain so your dog doesn’t realise it needs to eliminate; signs of incontinence or fouling indoors when this has never been a problem are symptoms.

Changes in activity can include decreased exploration and response to stimuli, decreased grooming, change in appetite, increased anxiety with signs of restlessness or agitation and/or separation anxiety.

Most vets offer senior wellness checks  for older dogs.  It’s well worth observing your older pet and discussing all changes with your vet before dismissing the changes as simply old age.

Source:  Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine