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Are Dog-Walkers at Risk for Broken Bones?

Dog-walkers get more exercise, but they must take care not to end up in a tumble that could break a bone.

For years, health experts have been telling people that exercise is critical for good health and that walking is great exercise. Dog ownership can contribute: Regular dog-walkers get more exercise than people without pets.

Research on Dog-Walkers:

A study in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health (March 2011) showed that people who own dogs are one-third more likely to get the recommended minimum of exercise each week. About 40 percent of the Michigan residents surveyed own a dog, and two-thirds of those walk the dog regularly, for at least 10 minutes at a time. Overall, dog owners were 69 percent more likely to get physical activity than people without dogs. One author, a veterinarian, points out that regular exercise is important for dogs to avoid obesity and health problems just as it is for humans. Older people and those with young dogs got the most exercise from walking the dog.

Dog-Walkers’ Dangers:

A study published in JAMA Surgery highlighted a downside of this otherwise pleasant activity, however (Pirruccio et al, JAMA Surgery, March 6, 2019). Dog ownership has increased in the US over the last decade, but so have broken bones among older people out walking their dogs.

Such fractures doubled between 2004 and 2017, with the majority of broken bones in women. About half of the breaks were in arms, wrists or fingers. The other fractures, unfortunately, were more concerning. About 17 percent of the broken bones were hips, a situation that can have serious negative consequences for a person’s mobility or even survival.

The scientists recommend obedience training for pets so they don’t tug at the leash suddenly to tip a person over. In addition, it makes sense to match the dog and its temperament to the strength of the owner. What doesn’t make sense is to tell people not to walk their dogs!

Readers have written about the joys of being dog-walkers.

Beau10 said:

“My throw-away-to-arrive-on-my-doorstep canine turned into the most unbelievable therapy tool for my bed-bound dad for whom I provided 24/7 care (no complaint). After my dad passed away, I was able to take this guy for at least a 30 minute AM & PM fast walk every day. At the end of the walk I throw a ball for him to chase and fetch.

“The exercise is great for both of us and has become truly necessary for me. If I am late to take him out he will drag the leash to me and drop it at my feet. I absolutely adore this guy who has taught me I do not ‘own’ him – we have a 50-50 partnership.

“Take your canine out for a walk – you will both become addicted.”

CDW agreed: 

“Oh so true. I have a 7 1/2 year old long legged dachshund who thinks he is a greyhound! He does make frequent stops.”

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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