If you want to keep fit, don't walk the dog

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DOG owners who want to keep fit and healthy should leave the pet at home when they go for a walk.

Walking the dog may be very healthy for man's best friend, but researchers have discovered it is not so good for man.

They found that the habit dogs have of stopping at almost every pillar and post - the so-called "lamppost syndrome" - completely destroys any aerobic advantages of going for a walk.

When they compared dog walkers and non-dog walkers who did the same amount of exercise each week, they found that after three months those without a four-legged friend were much healthier.

After 14 weeks, the non-owners who had been walking showed a significant drop in cholesterol levels and blood pressure when compared with the dog owners, and they had also lost weight. Those saddled with canine company were found to be little changed.

"What we have established is that with the dog owners, their animals stop and start so frequently, the owners don't get any aerobic effects from the walks," says Professor Mike Kelly, of Greenwich University, who led the social sciences research team.

All the volunteers taking part in the study were healthy, with no history of heart disease, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels or joint disorders. Their vital signs were measured at the beginning and at the end of the research period, during which all the volunteers completed the same number of walks.

"What we found was that the non-dog owners showed a significant reduction in total cholesterol, body mass and systolic blood pressure after 14 weeks. The fact that the non-dog owners seemed to derive more health gain than the dog owners suggests that more benefits derive from walking itself than from taking a dog," says Professor Kelly.

Aerobic exercises are designed to improve circulation and respiration and, in order for them to be successful, a degree of physical exertion is needed. But the research shows that, in a mile-long walk with a dog, with an average of 25 or more impromptu stops, the owner does not work up the same sweat as those who walk alone.

Professor Kelly adds, however, that while there are no aerobic benefits, the companionship of a pet has been shown to be psychologically beneficial.