Dog owners are fitter than other people, a study suggests. They tend to walk longer and more often than non-owners and are four times more likely to meet exercise guidelines for a healthy life.

And, typically, they go for walks on top of other exercise activities, such as cycling and jogging, rather than instead of it.

Researchers say their findings highlight the need for more dog-friendly homes, parks and paths.

Study leader Dr. Carri Westgarth said, “Without dogs, it is likely population physical activity levels would be much lower.”

The results come from a University of Liverpool study, in which 191 dog owners and 455 non-owners were asked about their exercise habits.

Owners walked an average of 9.6 times a week for a total of 347 minutes, researchers found. Non-owners had 4.6 walks lasting a total of 159 minutes.

It meant nearly nine in 10 dog owners met the recommended target of at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a week, compared with about six in 10 non-owners.

However, when factors such as age and gender were stripped out, figures revealed dog owners were four times more likely to hit targets.

Westgarth said walking a dog outside also boosted mental health and community spirit.

“Our findings should be used to justify the provision of dog-supportive environments for walking and pet-friendly housing,” she added.