Scientists suggest that, as walking is a low-risk exercise, walking a dog could form part of a broader strategy to improve the health of pregnant women.
Previous studies have shown that women who are obese or gain too much weight in pregnancy can have difficult births and that they and their children may develop related health problems in the future. This has led to recommendations that pregnant women, and those contemplating pregnancy, should be guided by health professionals to manage their weight and exercise.
Recommended exercise during pregnancy includes walking, hiking, jogging and swimming, but many women prefer walking as their primary means of exercise. In the first study to investigate whether dog walking could help promote exercise in pregnant women, researchers anticipate the findings could be of value to health experts who offer advice on maintaining general fitness and healthy eating habits during pregnancy.
Dr Carri Westgarth, from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Infection and Global Health, who led the research said: ‘Although the higher physical activity levels of adult dog owners has already been demonstrated in the US and Australia, this is the first study of its kind to examine whether the effects also apply to pregnant women. By not managing their weight and exercise, pregnant women risk unnecessary weight gain, as well as a difficult labour or weight problems for the child in later life.
‘We found that owning one or more dogs was associated with pregnant women taking part in brisk walking on a regular basis, helping them to achieve the recommended 150 minutes of activity a week. Findings suggest that ownership of a dog provides some motivation to go for a walk, even during pregnancy. ‘Dog walking alone cannot reduce the numbers of obese pregnant women, however, and we found no correlation between the weight of women with dogs compared to those without them. We also found that some pregnant women with dogs didn’t go out walking. This means that we need to look at how the promotion of dog walking could be integrated into a wider strategy, which includes advice on healthy eating, to encourage exercise during pregnancy and reduce weight gain.
‘We now need to investigate why some people do not take up the health-enhancing opportunity to walk their dogs regularly, and what barriers and motivators there are to walking. We also need to find out how factors such as the type of dog many affect the intensity of physical activity; for example whether owners with large dogs walk more briskly, compared to owners with small dogs. This will help us identify the advice health professionals could recommend to pregnant women for dog walking activity.’
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The research, which was conducted by the University of Liverpool in collaboration with the University of Bristol, the WALTHAM® Centre for Pet Nutrition, and the University of South Carolina, is published today in PLoS One.