If exercise isn’t one of your favorite activities, here’s something that might change that—a dog.

We’ve known for some time that interacting with dogs lowers one’s stress levels, blood pressure and resting heart rate. It also increases oxytocin, the “bonding” hormone.

Now: New research adds yet another important benefit to the list—a big increase in daily exercise.

Previous studies have found that dog owners tend to be more active than people without pets. But that research was mainly based on memory and self-reports, which can be unreliable.

In the recent study, which was published in BioMed Central Public Health, researchers used electronic monitors to track the amount of time that dog owners and non-dog owners spent standing, walking, sitting, etc. All the study participants were age 65 or older.

Result: Dog owners spent an extra 22 minutes a day walking (logging an additional 2,760 steps), compared with study participants without dogs.

The researchers acknowledge that people who are already active may be the ones who are most likely to own dogs, and the study wasn’t designed to determine cause and effect. But it makes sense that having a dog encourages people to get more exercise.

But what if the thought of owning a dog sounds like too much work and/or expense? Volunteering to walk dogs at a shelter or rescue group can get you moving, too.

“It is a win-win for the shelter dogs and the individuals who are looking to add walking to their lifestyles,” says Angela Fern, MS, a senior exercise physiologist at Beaumont Health’s Preventive Cardiology and Rehabilitation Program in Royal Oak, Michigan.

Bonus: Shelters usually need walkers in the mornings, afternoons and evenings, which makes it easy for volunteers to find times that fit their schedules.

So lace up those walking shoes and take your tail-wagging friend out for a salutary stroll!

Editor’s note: Read on if you’ve ever wondered why some dogs like to chase their tails or have other unusual habits.

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