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Fit Chat with Dr. Rebecca Breslow | Dog walking: Great for your health, but don’t trip over the leash! | News for to maximize your health and wellness

Walk around town or the rec park in Manchester, or on any of the numerous trails and paths in the Northshire, and you will run into a wide variety of dogs and their owners. We live in a dog-loving community — a good thing because dog ownership is beneficial for your health.

According to a recent study in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, which examined pooled data from nearly 4 million participants, both cardiovascular death and all-cause mortality are reduced in dog owners compared to their non-dog-owner peers. This means that just owning a dog might make you less likely to develop some of the major medical illnesses that cause death in adults.

Many of us who own dogs are more physically active than we might otherwise be — which is likely behind the mortality risk reductions. Who can resist the sweet, beseeching eyes of your canine companion, his or her leash in mouth, pleading with you to brave the elements and go for a walk? Even if you have a fenced yard or other circumstances that allow your dog to roam without you, he or she probably still has a positive influence on your physical activity levels. Two studies in Nature’s Scientific Reports found that dog owners are more likely to walk, stay out longer, sit less and meet current physical activity guidelines (150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week) than those who do not own dogs. According to another recent study in the British Medical Journal Open, dog owners also spend more time outdoors — a healthy practice with numerous mental and physical benefits.

Of course, there are two sides to every coin, and a new study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise examines the darker side of dog walking: injuries. In this study, researchers from Johns Hopkins University used information from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, a large national database, to analyze 20 years’ worth of leash-related dog walking injuries among adults presenting to emergency departments in the U.S. Nearly half a million adults were injured this way during that time, for an average of 21,000 emergency room visits per year. All injuries included were the result of dogs who were walking on a leash and the injuries were severe enough to require an emergency room visit. There were probably many more that were either treated at home or in a non-emergency room setting, so the actual rate might be even higher.

Seventy-five percent of those who were injured were women, and almost 50 percent were middle-aged adults (40 to 64 years). The most common mechanism was a fall after being pulled by the leash, or tripping over it. More than half the injuries were to the upper extremity, and the most common specific injuries were finger fractures, traumatic brain injuries (such as subdural hematoma or subarachnoid hemorrhage), and shoulder sprains or strains. Older adults and women were at highest risk of fractures, and hip fractures were also common among those 65 and older.

These sobering results should not deter dog owners from getting out there and walking their dogs, or from keeping their dogs on leash when and where it is appropriate. In the interest of public safety and respect for other people and dogs around you, it is always best to walk your dog on a leash when out in public, especially in places where leash laws apply.

The good news is, there are measures you can take to reduce your risk for leash-related dog walking injuries. Spending time training your dog to walk properly on a leash is a great first step. As recommended by the Johns Hopkins investigators, make sure to hold the leash in the palm of your hand, instead of wrapped around your fingers or wrist. Use shorter, nonretractable leashes to reduce the chance you will trip over your dog’s leash and avoid distractions like texting while walking your dog. Include balance and resistance exercises in your regular exercise routine to make you stronger in the event your dog does pull you, especially if you are an older adult.

Dr. Rebecca Breslow is a sports medicine doctor, freelance health care writer, and Burr and Burton Academy assistant cross country coach. Got questions or story ideas? Reach out to her at [email protected] or visit bryantviewhc.com.

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