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Dog ownership supports the maintenance of physical activity during poor weather in older English adults: cross-sectional results from the EPIC Norfolk cohort
  1. Yu-Tzu Wu1,2,
  2. Robert Luben3,
  3. Andy Jones1,3
  1. 1 Department of Population Health and Primary Care, Norwich Medical School, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK
  2. 2 UKCRC Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR), Cambridge Institute of Public Health, Cambridge, UK
  3. 3 Department of Public Health and Primary Care, Cambridge Institute of Public Health, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  1. Correspondence to Yu-Tzu Wu, REACH: The Centre for Research in Ageing and Cognitive Health, Department of Psychology, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter, Washington Singer Building, Perry Road, Exeter EX4 4QG, UK; y.wu3{at}


Background Dog ownership has been suggested to encourage physical activity in older adults and may enhance resilience to poor environmental conditions. This study investigates the role of dog ownership and walking as a means of supporting the maintenance of physical activity in older adults during periods of inclement weather.

Methods The analysis used data from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition Norfolk cohort. Daily physical activity (counts per minute) and minutes of sedentary behaviour were measured using accelerometers over 7 days. Three types of environmental conditions, day length, precipitation and maximum temperature, were date matched with daily physical activity. A multilevel first-order autoregressive time-series model quantified the moderating effect of self-reported dog ownership and walking on the association between physical activity and weather factors.

Results Among the 3123 participants, 18% reported having a dog in their households and two-thirds of dog owners walked their dogs at least once a day. Regular dog walkers were more active and less sedentary on days with the poorest conditions than non-dog owners were on the days with the best conditions. In days with the worst conditions, those who walked their dogs had 20% higher activity levels than non-dog owners and spent 30 min/day less sedentary.

Conclusion Those who walked dogs were consistently more physically active than those who did not regardless of environmental conditions. These large differences suggest that dog walking, where appropriate, can be a component of interventions to support physical activity in older adults.

  • physical activity
  • elderly
  • epidemiology

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  • Contributors YTW and AJ developed the original idea and designed the approach. YTW conducted the data analysis and AJ supervised the analysis. YTW, RL and AJ authored the manuscript.

  • Funding This work was funded by the Medical Research Council (Grant No. G0401527). This work was also supported by the Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR), a UKCRC Public Health Research Centre of Excellence. Funding from Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation, the Economic and Social Research Council, the Medical Research Council, the National Institute for Health Research, and the Wellcome Trust, under the auspices of the UK Clinical Research Collaboration, is gratefully acknowledged. The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors. The funders had no role in study design, data analysis, the decision to publish or the preparation of the manuscript.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent This is a secondary data analysis project. EPIC Norfolk has obtained informed consent from participants.

  • Ethics approval EPIC Norfolk has been approved by the relevant local research ethics committees.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement Data from the EPIC Norfolk cohort are available upon request to the study steering group (

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