The next time your favorite furry four-legged friend brings you the leash, take the hint and go for a walk — especially if you’re expecting.

In fact, your dog can be very helpful as a fitness buddy throughout your pregnancy, which means good things for the both of you.

dog wants to go for a walk

Dog-walking helps pregnant women get enough exercise

Collaborative research from the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition and the University of Liverpool has shown that pregnant women who own dogs are more physically active than those who don’t.

Researchers found that, through brisk walking, pregnant women who owned dogs were approximately 50% more likely to achieve the recommended 30 minutes activity per day. The study assessed over 11,000 pregnant women in the UK using data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), and was the first of its kind to look specifically at the effects of dog ownership on activity levels during pregnancy.

There is growing concern surrounding the health risks of excessive weight gain during pregnancy. Previous studies have shown that maternal obesity can lead to an increased risk of a range of health complications and may even be linked to childhood obesity. This has led to recommendations that pregnant women, and those considering pregnancy, should take steps to manage their weight and ensure regular exercise under guidance from their healthcare provider.

Help manage weight gain during pregnancy

By helping pregnant women stay active, dog walking could form part of an effective strategy for managing weight gain during pregnancy.

happy little corgi dog going for a walk“We are increasingly seeing that exercising with a dog can lead to improved motivation and effectiveness,” says Dr Sandra McCune, research program manager at Waltham.

“As a low-risk exercise, dog walking can help women — who may otherwise find it hard to meet their exercise targets — keep active and fit during pregnancy,” Dr McCune says. “Together with a balanced diet, it could therefore help towards ensuring a healthy pregnancy.”

Dog owners much more likely to get adequate exercise

The study of more than 11,000 pregnant women, in partnership with Mars Petcare, showed that those who owned dogs were approximately 50% more likely to achieve the recommended 30 minutes of exercise a day through high levels of brisk walking than those without dogs.

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Recommended exercise during pregnancy includes walking, hiking, jogging and swimming, but many women prefer walking as their primary means of exercise. In the first study to investigate whether dog walking could help promote exercise in pregnant women, the science suggests that as it is a low-risk exercise, walking a dog could form part of a broader strategy to improve the health of pregnant women.

Healthy habits, but no guarantee

Findings suggest that ownership of a dog provides some motivation to go for a walk, even during pregnancy.

Dr Carri Westgarth, from the University’s Institute of Infection and Global Health, says, “We found that owning one or more dogs was associated with pregnant women taking part in brisk walking on a regular basis, helping them to achieve the recommended 150 minutes of activity a week.”

“Dog walking alone cannot reduce the numbers of obese pregnant women, however, and we found no association between the weight of women with dogs compared to those without them,” says Dr Westgarth.

“We believe that owning a pet, and taking care of it properly, is hugely positive for the mental and physical wellbeing of the owner,” says Dr Sandra McCune, Research Program Manager at Mars Petcare. “This research shows that dog walking can form part of a healthy lifestyle for pregnant women, who may otherwise find it difficult to meet their exercise objectives.”

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About: This research has been published in the open-access online journal PLoS ONE and is available here. The study was conducted in collaboration with the University of Liverpool (UK), University of Bristol (UK) and University of South Carolina (USA) and used data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). It was funded by Waltham, and forms part of a wider body of research looking at the benefits of pet ownership for human and animal health.

Photo credit(s): Top photo thanks to Seniju / Corgi picture courtesy of tanakawho

Original publication date: February 16, 2012

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