Are kids with dogs more active?

Walking the Dog(s)

It wasn't long ago when yours truly had a bit of a spare tire -- the Michelin Man on Oreos. That was before I hooked up with two of my best buds, McBeal and Sophie. Mick, as I like to call her, is the alpha among us, the daughter of a purebred English setter who dated the mutt down the street. Sophie on the other hand is all chocolate Lab, complete with papers, a candy kiss nose, two marbles for eyes and a hefty appetite.

All of us needed to shed a few pounds. As such we spent a lot of time hiking and playing. We walked the hills of Connecticut and meandered through the mountains of Vermont. We scaled rocky cliffs, got bogged down in bogs, and on one particular occasion, wandered 5 miles off a rather simple trail. We were all active. All of us lost weight.

It's a well known fact that adult pet owners, such as myself, get more exercise than those who don't own a pup. For years, researchers wondered whether the same was true for children. In 2010, a team of researchers from St. George's University of London set out to find the answer.

A research team led by epidemiologist Dr. Christopher Owen studied 2,065 children between the ages of 9 and 10 in Great Britain, monitoring the children's exercise levels for a week. Out of those children, 202 lived with a dog. Owen concluded the dog-owning children were physically active more than five hours, or 325 minutes, each day on average, 11 more minutes than those without a dog [source: Russell].

An Australian study, this one conducted by researchers at Melbourne's Deakin University, found children between the ages of 5 and 12 who lived with a dog were in better shape than those that did not have a pup. They found that young children who play with the family dog were 50 percent less likely to be obese or overweight compared to those who did not have a pooch [source: Shears].

If that isn't reason enough to adopt a dog, scientists at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville concluded that teens from dog-owning families get more physical exercise than teens who don't own pets. The teens from the dog-owning families got about 15 minutes more of exercise each week than their pet-less counterparts [source: MSNBC].

While kids seem to be more active when their families own a pet, that's just the beginning. Pets, especially dogs, provide children -- all of us really -- with a variety of health benefits. Read on to find out more.