A study has quantified the health benefits of dog walking, and they’re surprisingly substantial, including a lower risk of high blood pressure, a trimmer waistline and fewer chronic conditions.

“The big one is that people who did not own dogs had over three times the odds of being treated for diabetes than those who walked their dogs,” says study author Cindy Lentino, an exercise scientist at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services in Washington, DC.

For her study, Lentino looked at the general health of 916 middle-aged adults who fell into three categories – those who did not own dogs, those who owned dogs but didn't walk them and dog owners who regularly walked their pets. 

She found that regular dog walkers had a lower body mass index, BMI, and fewer chronic conditions and depressive symptoms than their counterparts. They also sat less every day, used less tobacco and had more social support.

The study was presented at the Annual Meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine, in Baltimore.

Lentino says her results indicate dog walking is something medical and health professionals should include when talking about activities that promote a healthy and active lifestyle.

“There’s definitely something special about dogs. They are inherently active animals,” Lentino says. “Dogs give owners a sense of purpose in that they need to be walked and humans need exercise, so I think that is the key. “

Other experts agree.

“I think it makes sense because you are doing more activity. You will be healthier and leaner,” says Bashir Zikria MD, assistant professor in the Department of Orthopaedics at Johns Hopkins Medical Institution in Baltimore. “You are getting upper body work by holding the dog and a lower body workout by walking, and best of all you get social interaction. “

Dr. Zikria says dog walking also solves one of the most difficult parts of an exercise plan – starting it.

“The hardest thing about working out is often getting that set schedule. You can easily say I’m not doing it today,” Dr. Zikria says. “But when you have a dog, you know you have to walk them. It gives you a set schedule. You can’t give excuses because you can’t let the dog down. It’s an obligation.”