Rebecca Johnson, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., F.N.A.P., with a canine friend.

Senior living communities should consider incorporating more pet-friendly policies and design elements such as dog-walking trails and dog exercise areas so that their residents may experience the health benefits of owning a dog, according to one of the authors of research recently published by The Gerontologist.

“This study provides evidence for the association between dog walking and physical health using a large, nationally representative sample,” said Rebecca Johnson, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., F.N.A.P., a professor at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine and the Millsap Professor of Gerontological Nursing in the Sinclair School of Nursing.

Specifically, researchers determined that older adults who bond with their dogs are more likely to walk them and to spend more time walking them each time than those who reported weaker bonds. And those who walk their dogs have lower body mass index, visit the doctor less, exercise more and experience an increase in social benefits through interacting with dog owners and others. The investigators reached their conclusions by analyzing 2012 data from the Health and Retirement study sponsored by the National Institute on Aging and the Social Security Administration.

“These results can provide the basis for medical professionals to recommend pet ownership for older adults and can be translated into reduced healthcare expenditures for the aging population,” said Johnson, who also directs the university’s Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction.