Why doctors should prescribe a dog to keep old people active

Just taking a dog for daily walks is enough for its owner to meet the WHO’s minimum target for vigorous physical activity, British researchers find

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 June, 2017, 6:46am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 June, 2017, 6:46am

Owning a dog may help older adults meet physical activity levels recommended by the World Health Organisation, according to a study published in the open access journal BMC Public Health.

Health professionals could encourage dog ownership or shared care of a dog to motivate older adults to be more physically active, researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University and Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition, UK suggest.

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Dr Philippa Dall, senior research fellow at Glasgow Caledonian University and lead author, said: “We found that dog owners aged 65 and over spent on average an additional 22 minutes walking, taking an extra 2,760 steps per day when compared to people who didn’t own a dog. Over the course of a week this additional time spent walking may in itself be sufficient to meet WHO recommendations of at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity.”

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The researchers also found that dog owners had fewer sedentary events – continuous periods of sitting down – than non-dog owners, although the total time spent sitting down did not differ between the two groups. EurekaAlert.com

Girls more likely to have sex, take sexual risks, and marry young if they menstruate early

The timing of a girl’s first menstruation may affect her first sexual encounter, first pregnancy, and her vulnerability to some sexually transmitted infections, according to a meta-analysis by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. These patterns of sexual and reproductive health outcomes for girls in low- and middle-income countries who menstruated at an early age are similar to what has been observed in high-income countries such as the US.

Until now, there was little known about associations between a girl’s first menstruation coming early and sexual and reproductive health outcomes in less advanced economies. The results are published online in the journal PLOS ONE.

“Menstruation marks the beginning of a girl’s reproductive life and is an important indicator of girls’ physical, nutritional, and reproductive health, yet it is often overlooked in public health,” said Marni Sommer, associate professor of Sociomedical Sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health, and senior author. In high-income countries, a first menstruation is deemed early if it occurs before the age of 12.

The Columbia researchers used data from peer-reviewed studies and health and social sciences databases to assess the link between early first menstruation and various negative sexual and reproductive health outcomes in adolescence. These included beginning sexual intercourse early, experiences of sexual advances from older men, early pregnancy and childbirth, sexual risk taking, and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. The researchers also studied the link between age at first menstruation and early marriage.

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Two of the studies were conducted in Malawi; the others in South Africa, Nepal, Jamaica, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, India, and Bangladesh. Overall, an earlier age at menstruation was associated with an earlier age of sexual initiation. EurekaAlert.com

Study links chronic pain with increased risk of dementia in older adults

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, have found that older people with persistent pain show quicker declines in memory as they age and are more likely to have dementia years later.

Published in JAMA Internal Medicine, findings from their study, which appears to be the first to make this association, indicate that chronic pain could somehow be related to changes in the brain that contribute to dementia.

The researchers analysed data from 10,000 participants aged 60 and up over a 12-year period. The participants who said they were persistently troubled by moderate or severe pain in both years 1998 and 2000 declined 9.2 per cent faster in tests of memory function over the next 10 years than those who said they were not troubled by pain. Those who complained about persistent pain also had a small but significantly increased likelihood of developing dementia overall.

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Dr Elizabeth Whitlock, a postdoctoral fellow in the UCSF Department of Anaesthesia and Perioperative Care and the first author of the study, said the findings point towards new ways of thinking about how to protect older people from the cognitive insults of ageing.

“Elderly people need to maintain their cognition to stay independent,” she said. “Up to one in three older people suffer from chronic pain, so understanding the relationship between pain and cognitive decline is an important first step toward finding ways to help this population.” AP